Did EA Sports' FIFA '16 rate the USWNT players fairly?

EA Sports’ newest installment of their soccer video game, FIFA 16, will be coming out on September 22, 15. When it does, it will feature women’s soccer players for the first time ever. This is an exciting development for fans of gender equality AND fans of the U.S. women’s soccer team. One of the most hotly anticipated aspects of the release of any new sports video game is the rating of players. Fans (and even players) obsess over player ratings. Is Player A too high? How could they possibly have made Player B only a 75 (all the ratings are out of 100)? For the first time ever, we get to obsess over the ratings of our favorite female soccer players as well as male. On Twitter today, I saw the first leak of the overall ratings of the players from the U.S. Women’s soccer team from Women’s Football Comp. Here they are, in order, with my comments. If you want to know more about any of the players, I’ve linked to the profiles of them that I wrote before the World Cup.

  1. Abby Wambach – 88: Okay, this is clearly an honorary legacy rating for the greatest international soccer goal scorer of all time. At 35, she’s no longer the best striker in the world, not even on her own national team. She came in off the bench in the last few World Cup games and that’s one of the reasons the team won the Cup. After all she’s done for the country and sport, I’m okay with this. Wambach forever!
  2. Megan Rapinoe – 87: This is an interesting rating and perhaps shows what strengths the FIFA game weighs more heavily than others. The U.S. vs. Germany semifinal notwithstanding, Rapinoe is normally a player who emphasizes technical skill over speed and strength. She’s can strike a set piece with the best of them and hit streaking attackers in stride with her accurate passing. The best non-Wambach player though? I’m not sure.
  3. Hope Solo – 87: Now we’re cooking with gas. Solo is still the best goalkeeper in the world. An intimidating presence in the net, Solo has earned every one of those 87 rating points.
  4. Carli Lloyd – 86: The hero of the World Cup for the USA, Lloyd’s strengths translate well to video gaming. She’s a physical beast, strong and durable, and if her long-range shooting rating is not 100, something is very, very wrong at EA Sports headquarters.
  5. Becky Sauerbrunn – 84: I could not be more happy with this rating. The back-four for the USA were my favorite part of the World Cup and, although she didn’t get as much acclaim as some of her defensive teammates, Sauerbrunn was the solid foundation that made it all happen. She’s totally dependable, which is exactly what you want out of a defender.
  6. Alex Morgan – 84: Yeah, well, okay, fine. I’m not a big fan of Morgan, either on the field or off, but she does have some very easily replicable skills. She’s very fast and extremely clever at making threatening runs through the defense. Her finishing touch leaves something to be desired, but at 84, I think that’s probably represented in her rating. She does everything else very well.
  7. Tobin Heath – 83: This overall rating is surely bolstered by the fact that Heath has the dribbling skills of an alien whose entire evolution has been devoted to soccer dribbling. She’s a freak.
  8. Christie Rampone – 83: Another honorary rating and another acceptable one based on her overall career arc. The only woman who was on the team that won the 1999 and 2015 World Cups deserves everything she gets. Just get her out of your lineup if you play as the United States in the game. Don’t break up the true back four for Rampone’s honorary strength.
  9. Sydney Leroux – 82: Leroux had trouble breaking into the U.S. lineup at the World Cup, but this rating rings true nonetheless. She’s virtually interchangeable with Alex Morgan, just ever so slightly worse. It’s why it’s hard for her to get playing time in real life and in video games.
  10. Lauren Holiday – 81: If I had my druthers, I’d push Holiday’s rating a little bit farther up, but her true strength, vision, is virtually impossible to capture in a video game.
  11. Julie Johnston – 81: If Johnston had been able to continue her scoring streak from the Algarve Cup into the World Cup, she’d be one of the top five players in the game. As is, this rating probably reflects that we should expect a little bit of regression to the mean in her play. She had a sublime streak of about fifteen games but there are cracks in her armor, which we saw against Germany and Japan.
  12. Heather O’Reilly – 81: I guess? For her have played only nine minutes in the World Cup and to be higher than several players who played key roles seems strange to me.
  13. Kelley O’Hara – 81: The proverbial spark plug off the bench for the U.S. in the World Cup, O’Hara looked every bit as good as her rating suggests. I might even push her up past Leroux and Heath, but at this point we’re quibbling over a few rating points.
  14. Ashlyn Harris – 80: Being stuck behind Hope Solo is no shame. The second best goalie on the U.S. team may also be the second best goalie in the world.
  15. Ali Krieger – 80: I’m surprised to see a core member of the U.S. defense so far down the list, especially one whose public profile is as high as Krieger’s.
  16. Whitney Engen – 79: Engen could have, might have, would have been the starting central defender if an injury had not given Johnston a chance to seize the day (and the position.) Engen is a solid player but given her lack of playing time in the World Cup, I’m surprised she was not at the bottom of the list.
  17. Morgan Brian – 74: Here’s where things start getting crazy. Brian was a key piece, some would argue THE KEY PIECE, that, once inserted into the lineup, made the U.S. team’s run to the World Cup championship possible. Even playing slightly out of position at defensive midfield, Brian was a rock. At 22, she’s also has one of the brightest future’s in the game, something that, in many game modes, players should actually get to experience. I hope that the programmers at least put that in. If you play more than a year or two into the future, Brian should be the top rated U.S. player seven times out of 10.
  18. Amy Rodriguez – 74: Oh, fine. I think Rodriguez gets a raw deal, but she’s used to it. There’s no way she’s ten rating points worse than Alex Morgan.
  19. Christen Press – 72: This is just stupid. Anyone who can do this to the French defense should be rated much higher. The awkwardness of her fit with Lloyd and Rapinoe in the midfield held her back from World Cup stardom and now it’s being reflected in this rating. That’s a shame!

Missing – A few players were not included in @jigsawwill’s Twitter posts. Here is my best guess at what their rating might be and why.

  • Alyssa Naeher – 80: As a Boston Breakers fan, I get to sit right behind Naeher and watch her work on a regular basis. She is an extraordinary keeper. I’m putting her even with Hope Solo’s other backup, Ashlyn Harris, who I haven’t seen play as much, but who I assume must be equally good.
  • Meghan Klingenberg – 82: Ahead of Julie Johnston and Ali Krieger? Yes — Klingenberg’s ridiculous speed bumps her above those players and will maker her a particular joy to play as in the video game. Speed kills in video games, just ask fans of Michael Vick and Bo Jackson.
  • Shannon Boxx – 72: At 38, Shannon Boxx’ time as a world class holding midfielder has come and gone. Unlike Rampone and Wambach, Boxx doesn’t have a high enough profile to get one of those charming honorary rating boosts.
  • Lori Chalupney – 74: Versatility is another quality that’s hard for video games to represent. Without Chalupney’s ability to play every position on the field (except, I assume, goalie) I’m not sure she would have been included on the team. Being a Swiss Army Knife is valuable, but not when quantifying the skills required to play each position.

Errol Morris on electric football

Errol Morris is widely regarded as the premiere documentary filmmaker alive. This week, the sports and culture website Grantland has declared it to be “Errol Morris” week and is celebrating their own invented holiday by releasing a brand new Errol Morris short documentary each day. The first one, It’s Not Crazy, It’s Sports: ‘The Subterranean Stadium’, is a 22 minute slice of life focusing on a man whose love for electric football permeates the life of his wife, family, and friends. I plan to watch and review all of the films this week. For full disclosure, I am a big fan of both Grantland and Morris, so I’m likely to enjoy most of them. I loved this one.

The film begins by focusing on the game of electric football. Electric football is a table-top game invented in the late 1940s and still produced today. Although its prominence in the world of football make-believe and simulation has long been superseded by both fantasy football and football video games, electric football continues to have a passionate following and is still sold today. Since its invention, more than 40 million sets have been sold. Players set up miniature football players on an electrified field. When a switch is flipped, the field electrifies, and the players, whose bases serve as conductors (both for electricity and to provide direction for the player), take off. When a defender makes contact with the player with the ball, the play is over and the setup begins again. By now, of course, you might be thinking that you don’t actually feel that interested in the minutiae of an archaic sports simulation. You’re in luck. No matter what the subjects of Morris’ films are, what he cares about is people.

People are the true focus of this film and the results are spectacular. Morris’ films can be separated into two main groups: the ones where he takes a serious topic and dissects it (like wrongful conviction in The Thin Blue Line, the Vietnam war in The Fog of War, or Abu Gharaib in Standard Operating Procedure) and the ones where he takes a frivolous or mundane topic and enlivens it (like small town life in Vernon, Florida or animal lovers in Gates of Heaven). This is definitely an example of the second. Love and humor are present in the thirty year tradition of gathering once a week in John DiCarlo’s basement to play electric football but as the documentary goes on, you begin to understand that there’s real pathos as well. Morris and whoever created the music for the film do a masterful job of allowing some of the tough realities of these people’s lives trickle into the film. You learn that DiCarlo is a Vietnam veteran who suffers from serious health problems due to his exposure to Agent Orange. The scene-stealing star of the film, a hot-blooded hot-dog vendor nicknamed Hotman (real name Peter Dietz) provides laughs and grins for most of the film and then the best line towards the end. When discussing his regret about never having children, he looks at the camera and says, “I had to play the hand I dealt myself.”

“I had to play the hand I dealt myself.” That line perfectly encapsulates this short film. The people who congregate in John DiCarlo’s Subterranean Stadium are realistic about their lives but also unrepentant. They know better than we do that winning an electric football simulation can only momentarily sooth the wounds of the lives they’ve lived, full of war and drugs and hardship and loss, but they’re unrepentant. The awkward beauty of the mangled card metaphor is that, had Dietz thought about it a little longer, he would have found that the perfect metaphor wasn’t playing cards with all its inherent randomness but electric football where you place the players where you want them and then sit back and watch the action unfold.

The best sports stories of the week 2.28.15

No theme this week, just a selection of wonderful articles about sports that I flagged throughout the week. One of my favorite parts of writing Dear Sports Fan is reading other great writers cover sports in a way that’s accessible and compelling for the whole spectrum from super-fans to lay people. Here are selections from the best articles of the last week on the subject of attitude:

How Madden Ratings Are Made

by Neil Paine for the Five Thirty Eight

Oh no! Not video games AND sports. It’s true, the subject of this article is the attempt to accurately recreate the strengths and weaknesses of real-world football players in the most popular football video game, Madden. One of the most fascinating aspects of this piece is the graphic showing how different strengths are weighted in importance for different positions. You can learn a lot about real football from how the game programmers decided to do this. For instance, look at how the importance of the pass blocking skill varies across the offensive line positions. It’s most important for the left tackle, who protects the blind side of all right-handed quarterbacks. Note that the tight end is the only offensive position where all the skills have some importance to the overall rating — the tight end is a hybrid position that does a little of everything.

There’s no good way to overcome the problem of simulating a quarterback like Manning, whose most important skills — reading defenses, calling audibles, seeing things on the field that no one else can, and making sound decisions — are instantly negated when a gamer picks up the controller.

“Quarterback decision-making is the most difficult thing to simulate,” Moore said. “We’re trying to simulate strengths and weaknesses as best we can within the game, but how you play the game is still you.”

Wasp species named in honor of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask

by Carolyn Y. Johnson for the Boston Globe

Everything you need to know is contained in the headline of this article… but that doesn’t stop it from being a ludicrously fun short read.

“This species is named after the acrobatic goaltender for the Finnish National ice hockey team and the Boston Bruins, whose glove hand is as tenacious as the raptorial fore tarsus of this dryinid species,” the authors wrote in the paper, which has been accepted and will be published in April.

The name also fit for other reasons. The project that led to the discovery of the species was underwritten by the government of Finland, Rask’s home country. The wasp is yellowish and black, similar to the Bruins’ colors. The grasping front legs of the female have claspers that look vaguely like goalie gloves.

The battle within Larry Sanders

by Kevin Arnovitz for ESPN

Two months ago, Larry Sanders was the promising young starting center for an NBA basketball team. Now he’s unemployed after negotiating a buy-out of his contract. What happened and what does it mean for mental health advocacy in sports?

This presents a stubborn paradox for NBA teams: Mental health treatment for players can’t realize maximum effectiveness until there are first-class services in place. But it’s hard to sell owners, management and players on shelling out for first-class services until they’re proved effective.

All the while, NBA players struggle in the shadows. Virtually everyone in the league can rattle off names of current or former players who needed serious help but never found it. A player who is getting razzed on social media for pouting his way through a season is actually dealing with the sexual assault of a loved one who lives across the country. Another player who seems uncomposed on the floor and confrontational with teammates and coaches suffers from acute anxiety and the prescribed medications are having an adverse effect. Read deeper into any story about fragile team chemistry or “off-court behavior” and there’s likely a component of mental health embedded inside.

Sports Style, Retro and Encyclopedic

One of the consequences of sports and sports teams being so well known by such a large percentage of the population, is that their colors, uniforms, and logos become fertile ground for cultural artifacts that refer to sports in one way or another. A few weeks ago, in a post about the controversy over the name of the NFL team, the Washington Redskins, we linked to a contest a design company had run to develop new logos for the team. Here are three other projects that use the language of sports for stylistic purposes.

An encyclopedic record of WWF champions

As found on Deadspin.com, this compendious poster showing the history of the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) is obviously a work of great devotion. His wrestlers are simple figures with cube-shaped heads that seem to evoke the character heads from the video game Minecraft.  Professional wrestling isn’t really a sport, in my mind, but it shares many elements of sport and people who follow it are a lot like sports fans. Creator Scott Modrzynski has also done a lot of work creating foogos or logos made of food. One of my favorites is a deconstructed s’mores version of the Pittsburgh Penguins logo. It’s truly remarkable! And while the foogos are too perishable to buy, some of his other work is for sale here.

NHL sprites

Sticking with hockey, and also found by Deadspin.com, here is a set of “sprites” representing the 30 NHL hockey teams plus the now defunct but still remembered fondly, Minnesota North Stars. These images are free to download. A sprite, as I discovered on wikipedia, was a shortcut used commonly in the early days of computer graphics to create a character that could be moved around on top of a background image without having to rebuild the background constantly. There is a set of comics that use sprites as characters for stylistic reasons but also because (again) it’s easier that using characters and backgrounds that have to be rebuilt for each image. One of the most popular of these comics used sprites from the video game Megaman. It’s these characters that artist, Adam4283 emulates when creating his set of hockey players.

8-bit tees of NFL helmets

Our last find is a set of T-shirts sold on Skreened.com with simple, 8-bit style representations of NFL team helmets on the front. The unnamed creator of these shirts left a message explaining that “If you feel yourself being transported back to the days of Tecmo Bowl, don’t be alarmed…that was the idea.” Tecmo Bowl was one of the first, and still one of the most loved, football video games ever. To get a sense of how popular it remains, there’s a youtube video of someone playing the game that has received over 1.6 million views since being posted in 2006. These shirts are a clever homage to the game.

There’s a few shared elements in all three of these products. All of them mash-up well-known sports visuals with video-game graphics. All of them evoke an earlier time. And all of them would make a great gift for a sports fan in your life!