Listening to DC United keeper Bill Hamid talk about "FIFA 13" tells you all you need to know about how serious MLS players are about the EA Sports soccer game -- and why anyone who received it as a gift for the holidays should heed their advice.
“When I play 'FIFA,' I’ll grab a bite to eat, then dim the lights a little bit and turn on my surround-sound speakers,” says Hamid. “Turning on those speakers is my favorite part, because you hear the crowd. You hear the chants and songs. I like it as realistic as possible.”
Some of Hamid’s MLS colleagues who play "FIFA 13" say that it doesn’t take that much. The graphics are so good, they easily get sucked into the action.
“Compared to the real thing, it’s definitely pretty close,” says FC Dallas midfielder Brek Shea. “It’s fun to be able to do things you can’t do in real life.”
“Hold off five guys and score,” says Shea, whose favorite player on "FIFA" is Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
As in most soccer leagues around the world, "FIFA 13" is the preferred video game of MLS. Not surprisingly, the young players fresh out of college or the academies tend to dominate their older teammates.
“It’s very competitive,” says Antoine Hoppenot, the Philadelphia Union’s 22-year-old forward. “There’s always trash talking going on between us. We have a 'FIFA' game going in our locker room all the time.”
Hoppenot claims to be the best.
“Oh yeah, it’s me by a long shot,” he says. “I’m not sure if everyone would agree with that, but I think so.”
Sometimes, however, experience wins out. Steven Beitashour, the relatively seasoned 25-year-old Earthquakes defender, rules the virtual pitch in San Jose.
“I started in college and would just dominate everyone,” recalls Beitashour. “I’ve been addicted since then. A lot of people also play 'Call of Duty' and other games like that, but I never got into those. 'FIFA' is my only game.”
So what do Beitashour, Hoppenot, Shea and other serious MLS 'FIFA' gamers suggest new players do to get as good as they are? Most say getting a lot of reps against human competition helps tremendously.
“Keep playing against friends and players online,” says Hamid. “It helps you get better faster than playing the computer. If you’re a serious player, you know possession is a great tool. Playing with the ball more will get you more comfortable as a gamer.”
Colorado Rapids forward Kamani Hill says practice is even more important with "FIFA 13" than previous versions because the latest version puts more emphasis on the gamer's skills and know-how.
“Knowing what player is supposed to defend where is the advantage you get from playing the game all the time,” says Hill. “It all depends on how long your touches are and how sharp your passing angles are. You have to be precise, which takes a lot of practice.”
When the game was released in September, L.A. Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza says he played at least a few hours a day for the first few weeks, trying to get a handle on the one-touch control feature.
“When you play the ball to another player, you have to control it,” he says. “It doesn’t just do it automatically like it used to.”
Houston Dynamo forward Will Bruin suggests starting out simple to get the hang of it. Don’t worry about fancy moves and cheats.
“It’s more of a possession-oriented game, so you have to wait for things to open up,” says Bruin. “When you see a chance to go, you’ve got to take it. You can’t just push the ball down your opponent’s throat.”
Bruin says having real soccer experience is now, suddenly, a big advantage.
“You know certain ways to advance ball,” says Hamid. “You know at certain points when to cross when you see runners going. You know when to bring the keeper out when there’s a breakaway. Being a pro soccer player, you figure those things out easier.”
And that’s exactly why Beitashour enjoys playing his non-soccer-playing friends more than teammates.
“I understand what each player is supposed to do, and I use that against my friends when they try to send the ball over the top and push all their guys forward,” he says. “They’re leaving their defense vulnerable, and I know how to counter.”
So if you play online and find yourself on the business end of a wicked counter attack, you might be facing one of these guys. Or, probably more likely, you could be playing a kid like Hamid’s nephew, who recently whipped him, 2-0.
“It really bugs me when I play online,” says Beitashour. “I’ve had 10 shots before and none go in, then the guy I’m playing gets one weird counterattack and somehow it goes in.”
Now that sounds like real soccer. "FIFA 13" might be even more realistic than Beitashour and his fellow MLS gamers realize.
We asked some MLS pros to name the teams and players they prefer to play with in "FIFA 13":
• Antoine Hoppenot, forward, Philadelphia Union: “I play with Arsenal. They’re my favorite team, and I love playing with Santi Cazorla, their center-attacking midfielder. He’s just nasty.”
• Brek Shea, midfielder, FC Dallas: “I always go with PSG and Ibrahimovic. He’s just a beast. If you’ve been watching, he’s been doing really well, and I just love the way he plays.”
• A.J. DeLaGarza, defender, L.A. Galaxy: “Man United is my team, but I think Ronaldo is the most fun to play with. He’s one of the fastest players and can do a lot of moves. It’s fun to get him the ball and make runs at the goal.”
• Kamani Hill, forward, Colorado Rapids: “Most of the time, I play Real Madrid. All the players on that team are awesome. They’re all different. Some are better passers. Some are better scorers. You can’t go wrong with any of them.”
• Bill Hamid, goalkeeper, DC United: “In the beginning it was Barcelona. They were unstoppable in 'FIFA 11' and '[FIFA] 12,' almost like it was unfair. Now Man U is my team because of my man [Red Devils defender Nemanja] Vidic in the back.”
• Steven Beitashour, defender, San Jose Earthquakes: “I go with Man City. It’s not my favorite team, but if you want to win you have to pick one of the top teams. I think [Barcelona striker Lionel] Messi is incredibly fun to play. He’s faster than anyone else and the ball is just stuck to his foot.”
• Will Bruin, forward, Houston Dynamo: “In 'FIFA 12,' I chose Chelsea because I loved playing with [striker Didier] Drogba. Now I'm still mulling it over. I’ll probably have to go Man U or Arsenal. [Man U striker Robin] Van Persie is looking pretty good right now.”
Chris Gigley is an ESPN.com contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @cgigley or via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.