This weekend marks the true beginning of the FIFA 19 competitive season at the game’s first major dual-console live event.
Bucharest, Romania will play host to 64 of the world’s best players as they compete for a share of the $200,000 prize pool and 1,500 Global Series points.
On top of an impressive group of competitors is a strong contingent of broadcast talent with Spencer Owen, Joe Miller, Rachel Stringer, Skyle Walker, Mike Labelle, Ivan ‘Boras Legend’ Lapanje, Brandon Smith, Richard Buckley and Jimmy Conrad.
And Goal caught up with the latter ahead of the tournament as the former USA international spoke about his favourites for the competition, transitioning from football to FIFA and more...
Goal: Starting off Jimmy, FUT Champions Bucharest is shaping up to be a sensational tournament. What do you think we can expect to see gameplay wise in tournaments this season?
JC: I'm expecting it to be fun, entertaining and most importantly, competitive. I think what I like most about FIFA 19 compared to previous games is the subtleties and nuances, how it actually plays to the real-life game.
That's what I like most because in the past the FIFA games have been a more cartoon version of the game. When you get to the higher levels you see the subtleties and nuances, the layers EA have added to this game. I get a big thrill out of that because I can see it actually play out when I'm on the controller.
That pumps me up, like that small pocket of space that wouldn't have been there eight or ten years ago in the game. The competitors, these guys have been doing it for so long so, they're so talented and dedicated to their craft, it's really cool to be a part of.
Goal: There are a lot of very strong, capable players competing this weekend. Who do you have as your pick to win and there any other dark horses fans should keep an eye out for?
JC: Every time I pick someone to win I feel like I jinx them so I'm almost reluctant to say a name! If you want to go with the favourites, Gorilla is always in there, MsDossary is always in there and I think he's the guy that's most favoured after he won the eWorld Cup this year and two other big tournaments. He's THE guy until proven otherwise.
I'm really curious to see how Tekkz does. He jumped onto the scene last year in Barcelona and I think that pressure and expectation might have been a little overwhelming for him after that. He got a big sponsorship, everybody was talking about him.
That's what I like about these events EA are putting on, what they have created is a platform so their players that are passionate about this game can compete at the highest levels and now have the same pressures at football players: sponsors, representing big clubs, performing in front of large audiences. They have to deal with that adversity, with failure and success.
As we saw with Tekkz, he won in Barcelona but then he became a target, everybody was gunning for him and I really think now he is primed to take another big step in his career, win another tournament and have a good season. EA has triple the events this year, it gives more opportunities for players around the world and that's a good thing.
As with the beautiful game, it's inclusive, everyone is welcome. You can be shaped like Peter Crouch or Andres Iniesta and still have success in this game. Everyone just wants to play a be a part of this community both on and off the field, virtually and the real world. You want to be part of something bigger than yourself and I think, that's what makes this game in particular very special.
Goal: Touching on the community, you usually organise five-a-side football matches during these tournaments. What is the social side to these events like?
JC: It's fantastic, I did a pick-up game in Barcelona and I didn't think much of it. By the time we got to Manchester, the following event, basically every single competitor there had brought their boots and were asking me if we were doing another game!
Everybody wanted to be involved, maybe it takes off the pressure because those guys had been preparing so hard, playing for months in order to qualify for that event. I think the players needed a release, somewhere they could go out and just be friends.
It was amazing, we had about 40-50 guys come out. It's been nice to see just how strong this community is outside of competition but even then everyone is so supportive. It's very unique where if someone gets knocked out, they go right over to their friends and try to give them tips. It's such a positive environment.
We see all this stuff in the media between Real Madrid and Barcelona, for example, but when they're in the Spanish national team I'm sure they're all buddies. These competitors have been honing their craft for years and I'll be honest, I think they work harder at their craft than I ever did when I was a professional. I have so much admiration for the time and dedication they put into it because I don't think I would put in the same hours.
Goal: Speaking of your time as a professional player, if you were in Ultimate Team now what do you think your rating would be?
JC: I like to think I would be mid-70s, I think in the games I peaked at 74 or 75 coming off of playing the World Cup in 2006. That's always going to boost your ratings a little bit and I was happy with that, it felt pretty high for an MLS player. It was respectful by EA and the community agreed with it which was nice.
I did think I was faster than they gave me ratings for though! I would like to throw that out there. I would start to give EA stick because if I'm a player and I can read the game faster than other players, that means I don't have to sprint anywhere. I'm just one step ahead of everybody else.
I didn't necessarily think that was my biggest gift but I was a more of an anticipatory defender. So because of my play-style I was punished and made out to be slower than I am. I hold onto that 10 years later but I'm not bitter, it's fine.
Goal: How did you end up going from a professional footballer to then presenting FIFA tournaments? How did you make that transition and why did you decide to do so? Have you always had an interest in FIFA?
No question, I've been playing FIFA since it came out. And I think as most find out very quickly, it's an incredible bonding experience with your friends and family.
There's this legendary story in my family when I got beat by my little brother 4-0 and I had broken my foot so I was not playing at that time, I went home to work with my local doctors. After that loss, I put my crutch through the wall. There was a huge hole in the wall, my mum was so upset, it was unbelievable. That was 15 years ago and we still talk about it as if it was yesterday, the games create moments and memories.
I would play in tournaments with my friends in college and we still talk about that one goal that somebody scored. I always think about FIFA with the stories that come with it. As you can imagine, when I became a player it was a dream come true and EA has created these opportunities now for pro FIFA players to realise their dreams as well.
For me to be involved with that and help other people trying to reach their dreams and to be able to tell them stories in a respectful manner - it's an honour to be involved.