A Bizarre Search for Answers: Watching Mexico vs New Zealand Simulations on FIFA 14

A few nights ago I was driving back home from work in an unusually good mood. Maybe it was the non-stressful day or the new and enticing beer which was waiting for me in my tiny fridge. Either way, I was the most content man driving at 10 p.m. after an eight-hour shift. The freeway was empty and there was something eerily cool about that desolate road. Especially when that freeway is usually filled bumper to bumper with angry hippies who risk cognitive dissonance with the amount of time spent in their vehicles on their way to work. My house (garage turned into a studio by my landlords) is located conveniently off of a main exit from the freeway. As I approached I was happy to see that there were four empty parking spots, all calling out for my 1999 Toyota Corolla to keep them warm overnight. Choose me, I'm next to a tree and I'll keep your car shaded all day tomorrow! Look at me, I'm not like that other spot that usually has a homeless man next to it! Hey, check me out, I've got no broken glass in my spot! I pull up next to what I believe is the best option and then it hits me (metaphorically). My mind was innocently wandering through safe terrain but just as I had thought about soccer for one second, it rocketed from "I should check out soccer highlights" to "MEXICO PLAYS NEW ZEALAND ON THE 13th." I know we are the favorites to win, and it looks likely that we will but the word "favorites" is now irrelevant for Mexico. Almost every game that we have been favorites ends up in disappointment. It's almost as if I have developed a Pavlovian response to the word "favorites" now. Favorites? Oh god I don't feel very well, every time I hear that word we either lose or tie a game.

Unlike other rivals, New Zealand is a team that most of us don't know much about. They are not in the CONCACAF, we don't usually have a reason to play them, and to the best of my knowledge we have only ever played them three times. A look at their roster reveals a squad that mostly plays in the Australian A-League and a few that play in Europe. It's hard to know what to expect from them when the only descriptions that have been used for the team from the media are: "tall, fast, and strong." I needed a bit more information and for whatever reason video games seemed like an interesting option. In a bizarre attempt to get some sort of answer or prediction, I turned to my Xbox 360 and my recently acquired FIFA 14 game. Would I get concrete answers? No. Was this going to accurately predict the outcome of the games and the performances of each individual player? Not at all. Would this be fun and maybe even microscopically educational? Yes.

The last thing I want to do is plug-in a video game that probably doesn't need more money. I already feel bad enough for my wallet after dropping $59.99 for the game which will get placed in a closet next year for another version and another $59.99. That being said it was actually entertaining to watch the home and away series for both teams. In my head I treated it like an actual game and I yelled at my tv like an idiot every time the virtual Raul Jimenez missed a shot. My only concerns for the set-up of the games were the half-lengths (20 minutes max on FIFA 14) and New Zealand's home stadium. "Forest Park Stadium" was selected as New Zealand's home stadium and some research on the choice showed that it's location was nowhere and just one of the many generic stadiums in the game. My favorite generic stadium in FIFA 14 is the "Presidente G. Lopes" stadium for the fictional president, G. Lopes (I would like to imagine that the G stands for Gee). The game options do let you decide the season and literal time of the game which makes me feel like the game is so much more of a true simulation than it actually is. It would be interesting to talk to one of the game developers and find out if there really would be a difference between a 1:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. start time in games.

To be honest, I focused on the starting 11 and actually forgot to choose the players on the bench the first time around. After only 38 minutes on the pitch, my virtual version of Piojo Herrera decided Raul Jimenez had enough time on the field and brought on Chicharito, oops. A few changes to the roster and a restarted game brought me up to speed. I utilized the same lineup from the San Diego friendly with the 5-3-2 that Piojo had used that day. For New Zealand, I used a defensive 5-4-1 in Mexico and a 5-2-2-1 in New Zealand. I had my pen and paper, green tea, and Xbox all good to go. First up: Estadio Azteca.

The game is actually hilarious when all of the players first start walking out. It looks as if the FIFA 14 developers only cared about the details of Chicharito's face and ignored those of the rest of the country. Umm...that's Rafa Marquez...um Moises Munoz's darker and older brother...why is Raul Jimenez so pale?  Mario Kempes and Fernando Palomo provided some nice background as the Spanish commentary and the referee to be honest is somebody that I have already forgotten. We easily dominated possession during the first ten minutes of the game and had already had a couple of decent shots by Luis Montes and Raul Jimenez. Our passing was oddly enough excellent for the most part and our defense was looking a bit too strong. New Zealand weren't able to get past midfield but as the game progressed, so did their possession. Topo was unsurprisingly our weakest link in the back and made a few unnecessary tackles that gave New Zealand free kick options that they didn't capitalize on. During the 18th minute Paul Aguilar completed an amazing play that could have only existed in FIFA 14's world, let me set the scene. Carlos Pena had the ball just a bit over the middle of the field and launched a long pass for Paul Aguilar to chase down near the corner flag. Aguilar slid onto the floor to save it and somehow crossed it perfectly over to a lonely Raul Jimenez who headed it into the net. That's right, Aguilar saved the ball through a slide tackle and turned it into a perfect fifteen yard cross through a single move.

Minutes later Luis Montes is tackled right in front of the box for a close free kick. Rafa Marquez went up to take the shot and instead passed it just a few yards to his left over to Oribe Peralta. Peralta who had a running head start obliterated the ball and knocked it into the top left hand corner of the net. 2-0! I would die of happiness if we actually scored a goal like that one. The rest of the half was a back and forth between both squads in the midfield with Mexico sneaking in an occasional shot that was off target. The second half soon started and Miguel Layun began to pick up his pace. The left back was very quiet in the first half but out of nowhere the guy began taking on two or three New Zealand players at a time and took ridiculously long shots that were on target. I couldn't help but laugh as well when they showed a complete look of ambivalence on Layun's face when he took a 35 yard-shot which was on target. It was inevitable that one of Layun's runs would lead to another goal. In the 66th minute Layun once again took on a couple of midfielders and provided another perfect cross to Aldo de Nigris (who was subbed in for Jimenez just minutes before) who headed in the pass. The flood gates of shots opened up afterwards but another goal was not found for Mexico. The game ended with New Zealand scoreless, no shots on target, and somehow with 47% of the possession. We ended the match with three goals, thirteen shots on target, and 53% possession. Notable performers from this game were: Rafa Marquez, Luis Montes, Oribe Peralta, Miguel Layun, and Carlos Pena. Especially Pena, if there was something tangible (if anything at all from this video game simulation) it's that New Zealand are weak on the right side of their formation and Pena took advantage of it. Pick it up simulation Brockie & Bertos!

The second game was underway in New Zealand's "home stadium" of Forest Park. As mentioned before, I kept our lineup similar but changed New Zealand's to a slightly more offensive 5-2-2-1. The change in formation and I have to assume home-field advantage was noticeable. New Zealand had much more control of the ball early on in the game and already had a couple of shots on net. Althouh we lacked in momentum during the beginnning, we were able to sneak in the first goal. A rebounded shot from Carlos Pena landed perfectly in front of Oribe Peralta who headed the ball back into the net. We didn't have too much time to celebrate though, New Zealand kept pressing and eventually got on the scoreboard after Shane Smeltz leaped over Rafa and Topo for a cross and scored the equalizer during the 31st minute. Mexico were a bit more lackluster in possession during this game in comparison their first but were still creating ridiculous passes that I can't imagine us doing in real life. The first half ended and like the awful and inevitable changes of life, the second arrived afterwards. Virtual coach Piojo Herrera switched out Jimenez for De Nigris once again but this time during halftime. The second half was much more subdued on the attack for both sides. Perhaps the virtual squads knew the ultimate fate of both sides with just 45 minutes left to go, but both squads only had one shot on target a piece during the second half. For New Zealand, Leo Bertos was a weakness throughout both games and was an area that Mexico was easily able to attack. As the game was drawing to a close, Carlos Pena had a last attempt with a 20ish yard shot that hit the post during the 87th minute. New Zealand ended the game with one goal, four shots on target, and 50% possession. Mexico ended the game with one goal, eight shots on target, and 50% possession. Don't critize Forest Park stadium, that place was tough for us. Notable performers from this game were: Paul Aguilar, Luis Montes, Oribe Peralta, and Carlos Pena.

In the end, what did I learn? Well to be honest, not exactly what I expected. I learned that I could watch 80 minutes worth of FIFA 14 without even touching a control. I also learned that I could (accidentally) convince my mind to take those simulations just as seriously as I would with a regular match. Maybe in the end, the act of me searching for answers through a video game accurately portrays how ridiculous this all is. The FMF, the Club America based squad, all of our various coaches this year, it's all a part of this ridiculous thing we call "Mexican soccer" which we love so much. Well which most of will still hopefully love and be able to support after these next couple of weeks. In the end, the team which I expected to win did win. It's an obvious answer that has proven to be wrong so many times this year but I believe will be right on Wednesday.

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