There are a lot of reasons to be interested in FIFA 23. The latest soccer game from EA includes big features like the unfortunately belated addition of women’s pro leagues from France and England, alongside the return of Italian giants Juventus and general improvements to gameplay and visuals. More importantly, there’s also the nostalgia factor. The FIFA games have been around since the ’90s, and this will be the last entry with the FIFA branding. Starting in 2023, EA is calling its soccer games EA Sports FC. For me, though, my interest in FIFA 23 was something much more basic: I could play as Ted Lasso.
One of the stranger additions for this game is the inclusion of both Lasso — the main character from the Apple TV Plus series of the same name — and the fictional soccer club he coaches, AFC Richmond. As a fan of the show, the game, and the sport, I felt it was my duty to step into Lasso’s pullover sweater in FIFA 23’s career mode. And it’s been a delightfully strange experience, even if it’s not exactly a substitute for the show’s third season.
For starters, since Richmond isn’t actually a real team, I had to find a home for them. And FIFA lets you put them in any league you want. For maximum chaos, I decided to put the London-based club in Major League Soccer, where they’d be traveling to cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, and my hometown Toronto. It made no sense, which is what also made it perfect. (It also meant I had to kick a team out of the league to make room — sorry, Charlotte FC.)
Soon after taking the job, I got a text from surly midfielder Roy Kent (played in the show by the very real human Brett Goldstein) welcoming me:
This is when I knew things would be different from the show. Just look at that message: so polite, not a single curse word. No matter how well he’s playing, Roy Kent’s morale should never be “happy.” That’s just wrong.
Like in past games, FIFA 23’s manager career mode lets you not only play games but also adjust your team and tactics, find new players on the transfer market, develop youth players, and generally do all of the things that a professional manager does. You can run practice drills and boost morale by saying the right words at a press conference. My first act was to guide the club through a preseason tournament in China, which we won easily, netting a nice little $1 million bonus I could spend on new players. (I used it to lure some local Canadian prospects, naturally.)
From there, AFC Richmond was in MLS, and the thing that struck me the most was how weird it was mixing this fictional club and players with the real world. The game does a great job at accurately recreating the looks of actors like Phil Dunster, Toheeb Jimoh, Kola Bokinni, and Cristo Fernández so that they look largely like they do on the show. I mean, just look at that virtual recreation of Jason Sudeikis’ mustache. Seeing them in the game alongside real stars like Lorenzo Insigne and Gareth Bale was strange at first. It’s kind of like watching Juancho Hernangómez play in the NBA after seeing him star in the Netflix movie Hustle.
But I forgot about the weirdness pretty quickly, mainly because AFC Richmond absolutely dominated. While the club is an underdog in England, it turns out that if you drop them into North America, they are unstoppable. After a dozen or so games, Jamie Tartt and Dani Rojas were the top two scorers in MLS, averaging more than a goal per game each, and winger Sam Obisanya was sitting just a few spots below them. Even 40-year-old Roy Kent knocked in a few from his spot in the midfield. It got to the point that, after a 14-game unbeaten run, Mr. Lasso was constantly asked the same few questions in every post-match press conference. The team was so good that it got a little boring.
In an effort to shake things up, I tried something dramatic, inviting Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola to my office with a proposition: a one-for-one swap of Jamie Tartt (arguably the best fictional goal scorer at the moment) for Erling Haaland (easily the best non-fictional goal scorer at the moment). Despite a nice little chat in Ted’s office, it… did not go well:
And that’s maybe my biggest disappointment with the inclusion of Ted Lasso in FIFA 23: it’s missing a lot of the personality you might expect. The characters all look right, as do the team’s stadium and uniforms (I especially love the Bantr jersey sponsorship). But once the novelty of controlling Dani Rojas wears off, you’re left with a fairly standard FIFA career mode. There’s none of the humor or heart from the show. I wasn’t expecting a full-on Ted Lasso story mode — though some voice acting would be nice — but a few unique lines of dialogue would be very welcome to differentiate the experience. At least let me spit out some tea. Right now, what’s on offer is basically a really nice skin for the standard mode.
It’s still fun to play, and I’ve actually been really enjoying my time with FIFA 23 so far; after a few years away from the franchise, it’s been a lot of fun to dig back into the new features and explore what feels like the most realistic FIFA to date. Ted Lasso was just the hook I needed to jump back into the annual series. I’m already planning on starting a second career save file to check out the new women’s club teams. I just need to decide on a club first.
The real question is what comes next for Ted. Spending a season destroying teams like the Seattle Sounders has been fun, but it’s definitely gotten stale — and the dominance means that Ted has been getting job offers from around the world. Right now, I’m mulling over opportunities, trying to think what would be the most entertaining place for him to continue his career. Ted Lasso, the American-football-coach-turned-English-soccer-manager-turned-MLS-Cup-champion, taking the helm of a mid-level team in Korea? Now that’s a story.
FIFA 23 launches on September 30th, though it’s available now for those who preordered the special edition.