Mike LaBelle is representing the New York Red Bulls at the inaugural eMLS Cup, being played at PAX East in Boston. Also at PAX is Anthony Terminelli, who caught up with Mike as he was winding down after the second day of the tournament’s regular-season match-ups.
Anthony Terminelli: The preliminary stages are done, and you made it through to the knockout rounds.
Mike LaBelle: Yeah, I finished 7th, so that puts me up against Toronto in 2nd place, who I played against earlier today. I won the first match and lost the second match, so we split results.
AT: How do you feel going into that matchup?
ML: I feel good, I feel confident. I know if I play well that I’ll get a win. But, I will say that in FIFA this year, it does seem to be very random. Often, whoever scores first gets a major advantage in terms of being in control and being able to dictate the pace of the game. So, if I’m able to go ahead early that puts more pressure on him, which would decide a lot of the match. We’ll be in a different environment as well, we’ll be on a big stage in front of people, so we’ll see if that plays as an advantage or a disadvantage. I don’t know how he’s gonna respond. He had a better day than me today, but yesterday we were even. I didn’t have a great day in the group stages.
AT: You said you were struggling; you said you were a little unlucky, you weren’t executing. Tactically, going into the knockout stages, is there anything you want to switch up?
ML: I don’t like making a lot of last minute adjustments. I feel like that typically goes wrong. You make last minute changes and you realize why you shouldn’t have made those changes. I’ve got my plan. What’s important is being able to adjust if you go down or if you go ahead. How do I close out the game, or how do I chase the game? How do I add pressure without giving up a bunch of goals? This game has a bit of an imbalance with some of the passing accuracy and the pressure play. It’s very hard to create pressure without letting everything be wide open for your opponent. That’s a big challenge when trying to make a comeback. But, it’s a single elimination tournament, so if you come out and play well then that’s game. If you don’t you go home.
AT: In terms of content creation, how do you think that has helped competitive FIFA?
ML: It’s brought awareness. A lot of people knew about competitive FIFA and tournaments when I started my YouTube a few years ago. And now EA is backing esports, they have multiple events, and we’re getting more media exposure. We’re at the stage where we’re building an esport. I wouldn’t say it’s an esport yet, but we’re on the right path. What I mean by that is that we don’t have enough events, a calendar, or a ranking system. Some of these details and structure are needed if you really want to say you’re an esport. If you look at League of Legends or Counter Strike, they have everything laid out. Those guys are playing every week; pro events, tune up matches before the big events. They know exactly what to expect when they get to a LAN environment. With all the MLS organizations and the Red Bulls getting involved, this really makes FIFA esports very credible; this is happening. This is the very first stage, it’s the inaugural eMLS event and I can’t wait to see what happens in the future.
AT: How do you think the old style of competitive FIFA, which didn’t use Ultimate Team, compares to the new competitive FIFA which does use Ultimate Team? Have you had to switch up your style at all due to the differences between the two game modes?
ML: There’s a lot more customization now, which means more opinions and subjectivity comes into building squads and using formations. The speed of the game play is typically a bit faster than kickoff mode. I like it. Without Ultimate Team, we would not have esports. People were tired of seeing Real Madrid vs Real Madrid; Barcelona vs Barcelona. We would not have the opportunity to progress into esports without Ultimate Team.
AT: Going into customization, how do you feel about the squad rules for eMLS? Especially as the representative for the Red Bulls, as they’re a bit underpowered in FIFA. Did you think you were a little handicapped by that fact?
ML: I got fortunate that BWP got an in form just before the event, which definitely helped me, but that’s kind of how the game goes. You represent the organization, you’re gonna play with a couple of your players. I like the rule of having multiple MLS players including a few from your own team because otherwise, why would it be eMLS? In my opinion, it wouldn’t make sense if we were all using icons, we had access to everyone, and nobody used any MLS players. It just wouldn’t feel different if we didn’t have some level of restrictions and guidelines. I would’ve been cool if we had one icon or no icons. I didn’t want it to be unlimited because it’d be like any other event where everyone’s just using icons for chemistry anyways. They’d be using icons to make sure all their MLS players got chemistry. There’d be no squad building or tactics involved. For example, when I play, I make two instant subs to get my best players on the pitch. Everybody’s team is different here, which is interesting from a content side and in terms of spectators sharing their opinion as to who you should include. It gets a lot trickier when you’re looking at different nationalities and leagues to get full chemistry.
AT: Is there any Red Bulls player you’d like to see or maybe wish had gotten an in form?
ML: They need to upgrade Tyler Adams. ASAP. He’s a 66 overall with 73 pace or something. Tyler, you need to run some sprints on camera if you’re reading this. Show them that you are a fast man! Basically, what happened with the Red Bulls is that they had a lot of young talent, and they haven’t put out new cards since the previous season, so they didn’t get upgraded. They have all this potential, and now we’ve seen the potential, but the cards haven’t come out yet. So therefore, we don’t see it in the game. So that’s why the Red Bulls aren’t necessarily high rated in terms of player variety, but they are great in real life.
AT: So if you were to upgrade Tyler Adams’ card, what stats would you give him?
ML: He should definitely be at the lowest, a 74. He should be in the 80s for pace, his defense should be higher, his passing should be way higher. I think they went through a thing where he had a position change and they were trying to judge him as a defender. I think, 74, 75, 76, based on this season you could bump him up there. One in form would make him very nice. I also use Kemar Lawrence, mainly because he’s so fast and I like being able to utilize that left foot down the wing.
AT: In regard to Red Bulls proper, they just lost to Chivas on Wednesday night. They have the home leg coming up. How do you think the Red Bulls will fare in that home leg?
ML: I think we’re gonna get a W and we’re gonna progress.
AT: Score prediction?
ML: We need to win by two goals to make it happen, I think we’re gonna win 3-1.
AT: In general, how impressed have you been with the Red Bulls this season?
ML: Very impressed. We have 20-something players that can play as starters. I don’t think many teams have more depth. We have to be one of the youngest teams in the league. I think a lot of that has to do with the Red Bulls committing to building a homegrown program. A lot of players went through the academy stage, then Red Bull II, now they’re a starter. They get playing time in MLS. I think that’s really cool to be able to share that story. We’re still accustomed to buying players. You don’t really have teams building up players unless it’s to sell them. We’re building them up to start them. If I was playing right now – I played college soccer- I would think that this an opportunity. I can get into an academy program and see if I can actually be a pro. I could actually go pro at 19, 20 years old. That never really existed when I was growing up. There was no academy until I was about 17, and even then, players were encouraged to go to college.
AT: What players have impressed you the most this season?
ML: We have a lot of the consistent guys. You know what Royer’s gonna give you, Bradley is just so impressive. If you’re a soccer fan, it’s his little intricacies and some of his movement and touches that you can really appreciate. He’s very crisp and he has a veteran ability to finish 1v1s and read the game well. He’s a crafty veteran. I’m always impressed watching him because I was a striker and I could see what Brad’s doing and I just think, “man, these are things that I didn’t do well that I thought I was doing well”. I’d love to see what happens with Tyler and Derrick. They have a lot of potential, they’re fast, and they’re talented. They can develop into players relevant not just for the Red Bulls. Tyler is on the national team already, I’d love to see him at a World Cup. It’s a massive achievement and he’s a really humble guy. I like Rivas a lot. He’s all over the place, he’s very aggressive. But I can see the talent. He’s had a couple big games already and I just like the way he plays. He’s like a tank that’s fast. We have a lot more young talent, Ben Mines scored his first MLS goal. I’m just looking forward to how the rest of the season unfolds. I know Jesse trusts a lot of the players in the team, which is why he’s playing so many players and we’re still getting results.
AT: Final words for any Red Bulls fans cheering you on?
ML: Let’s keep New York red, and let’s beat Chivas.
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