Our second get-to-know-ya Q&A is with Josh Mayers, whose blog the beautiful game is casual and super readable, with lots of Josh’s video picks mixed in. Read on for Josh’s favorite soccer book - The Miracle of Castel di Sangro- his prescription for American soccer (acknowledge successes to date and develop youth!) and his projections for the USMNT's Starting XI for upcoming tourneys.
FCearth: What is your soccer background? Are you a lifelong soccer player and fan, and do you still play?
Josh: I became an international soccer fan at an early age thanks to my dad. He loved all those Brazilians in the early '90s when I was a kid (Romario, Bebeto) and that exposure, along with the 1994 World Cup, got me hooked early.
I started playing soccer at age 4 and played through high school where I was a three-year varsity letterman at Bellingham High (Wash.). Wasn't nearly good enough to play at the next level, but did play intramurals in college and occasionally knock the ball around at the park.
Soccer has been the only sport I have played competitively since age 12, so yeah, I like to consider myself a lifelong player and fan.
What are your favorite club and/or national teams?
It has to be the U.S. men's national team -- as hard as it can be sometimes. I love watching game at all levels and leagues, but the highest highs and lowest lows come with the USMNT.
I'm also a big fan of the Seattle Sounders FC up here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. There's a great passion around the franchise and a great ownership group. Things are definitely at a fever pitch up here (averaging more than 29K per game!).
Some other teams I enjoy: Holland (have always loved the orange, back to the Edgar Davids/Marc Overmars days), Israel (birth country) and Everton (my EPL team for a couple years now).
What’s the background of The Beautiful Game?
After I got involved with the newspaper industry out of college, an old soccer teammate asked -- kind of in jest -- why I didn't have a soccer blog.
At that moment, some 2.5 years ago when blogs were really starting to hit their stride, I realized he was right. It made sense to start my own blog, being a writer that loves the game.
And so it started, I picked a name and at first it was a small project for me and my friends to keep in touch with the soccer world -- especially with all the great action in Europe.
Month after month I picked up more readers -- thanks in part to the big blogs out there that would link to me -- and it's kind of taken off.
As a one-man project from day one, I certainly didn't expect to be able to make any money off of it or get any kind of readership. I'm very thankful.
What do you think is the #1 thing needed for soccer's continued success in this country?
I think to start people need to realize that soccer is successful in this country. Not as successful as it could be, obviously, but there is a solid base from which to start.
Our main league, Major League Soccer, is expanding faster than Cristiano Ronaldo's wallet. Youth leagues, adult leagues and pick-up games are thriving all over the place (in Seattle, at least). There are millions that love the sport from all corners of our diverse culture.
Some detractors like to repeat the tired cliche that no one cares about soccer in the U.S.A., but I think that's an adage reinforced by old media that still thinks baseball is the country's true national pastime.
Regardless there is still lots of room for improvement for the beautiful game in the U.S.
In my opinion, for soccer to take off in this country, we really need to focus on youth development. We can do everything else right, but if we aren't producing top-level talent it won't matter. We can't afford to lose blue-chippers like Giuseppe Rossi and we can't afford to have prodigies that we've invested so much in (Freddy Adu) ride the bench at all levels. We need some serious, top-flight talent to get American soccer to soar.
Like one college football coach once said, "Scoreboard, baby."
Winning cures a lot. Everyone loves to root for a winner.
What is your favorite story that you've covered on the blog?
The favorite things I've done on the blog actually came through some volunteer work I did with the Sounders a couple years ago, before they became an MLS team.
In the United Soccer Leagues days I was a media relations intern and used to write press releases and such for the team. At one point I was able to contact ex-Sounders stars for some PR puff pieces, those being MLS players Brian Ching and Brandon Prideaux.
I turned the extra quotes from the interviews into Q&A's on the blog, which was cool.
What is your favorite soccer media?
There is a great book that I think all soccer fans should read: The Miracle of Castel di Sangro. It's an old story but a fantastic account of a well-known American writer, Joe McGinniss, who delves into the lives of a lower-level Italian soccer team.
He travels all over with the team, creates relationships with the players and explores the importance of the sport in a small city while also being exposed to the corruption in the country before it became common knowledge.
Obviously these types of stories are all over the place, but this is the best I've read. Soccer fans will love it.
What is your predicted starting XI for USMNT at South Africa 2010, first game? (That's a loaded question indeed!)
I'm not a big fan of Bob Bradley these days, so I imagine the lineup will be boring, defensive-minded and predictable.
Forwards: Brian Ching and Jozy Altidore.
Midfielders: Landon Donovan out left, Clint Dempsey on the right, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu in the middle.
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley on the left, Steve Cherundolo on the right, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra in the middle.
Goalkeepers: Tim Howard.
Won't make it out of group stage again.