Adam Spangler is the gifted story-teller behind This Is American Soccer, one of the best written soccer blogs out there. His penchant for uncovering the cultural side of soccer, with sweet spots in media coverage, the New York soccer scene, the U.S. national team and U.S. youth development (witness Adam's recent essay on the latter topic.)
FCearth: What are your favorite club and/or national teams?
Adam Spangler: I consider the US MNT my hometown team
What is the background/genesis of This Is American Soccer? How did you get involved and how is Nike involved?
TIAS is an independent website. I wanted to attempt to personify the existence of American soccer through in-depth stories and thoughtful essays that reach across the soccer spectrum and don't focus as much on games, transfers, or opinionated columns. When I started the site in 2005, that product was sorely lacking in the soccer media landscape, from Sports Illustrated and the New York Times to soccer blogs and Big Soccer. You would get one or two stories a year from Grant Wahl and that was about it. The goal is to have a few months-worth of TIAS turn out to be a pretty solid quarterly soccer magazine. That's not always the case given the mix of stories, but it's what I strive for.
Nike has been a great partner as my website sponsor. It is similar to other media ventures that are "brought to you by" some company. That allows me to devote time to soccer stories, away from my other non-soccer journalism assignments for magazines, which is how I actually earn a living.
What compels you about soccer in America, and/or the progress soccer has made in this country?
The curious existence of soccer in the American sporting landscape, and the lack of attention it is given by the mainstream media, and how that changes over time is what interests me most. Like in the natural environment, all those parts are interconnected, so their evolution in comparison to each other is fascinating to me. And the fact that a country of this size hasn't produced a world-class offensive player makes me want to dig around and learn why. It's a never ending search, which turns up particular side stories. I think marking that progress or regression of the sport is important. And doing it indirectly through stories, not just op-ed columns, makes it more compelling to me, and hopefully readers as well.
What do you think is the #1 thing needed for soccer's continued success in this country?
No one thing, no one success is going to make soccer as a whole successful in the States. However, a few world-class offensive players would, I think, move the needle more than anything. What if Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi and Henry were Americans? What if the Spanish national team was the US MNT? Or France in 1998? You'd have worldwide endorsements, their faces everywhere, playing for the best clubs all over the world, attracting a global fan base. Even with just one or two players people would be more interested in them, their careers, and then the national team as well, given that seriously top flight players would of course make the national team better.
What is your favorite story that you've covered on TIAS, and why?
That's a tough one. There's four years-worth of stories in there at this point. The most popular story, hands down, was my feature on Clint Dempsey from last year, which I reported from London and Portsmouth, but an early story on MLK high school's soccer dynasty that I did four years ago might be closer to my heart. I think it would be a stronger story if I re-wrote it now, but the stories that revolve around that program in Manhattan are amazing. Like that team of immigrants in Georgia called the Fugees that was in the New York Times and turned into a book with a movie maybe in the works, the MLK story is stocked with movie moments and story lines. But as we saw with the meager sales of the Fugees book, soccer is a hard sell.
What's the secret to uncovering a good story as you so often do on TIAS?
There is no secret. Like any journalist, I'm always searching for stories, thinking of angles, and talking to as many people as possible with a hand in the soccer universe in order to further educate myself and hopefully share what I find with readers. I figure if I want to know something, other people probably will too. When you're just chasing page views and reader numbers, things always turn out for the worst in terms of content. Though it has improved over the last four years, I don't have the resources or the connections to compete with guys like Steve Goff or Ives Galarcep or Soccernet, so my one rule is to look around to see what else is out there and then do something different, something I would want to spend time reading. There is so much online these days and so many people doing great work, but how many game stories, player report cards, or top ten lists do we need? Lucky for me, what I am most passionate about--long form non-fiction writing and documentary photography--is largely absent from American soccer media, so it was easy to decide on an editorial direction. Unlucky for me, there are not that many other people who feel the same way. It's also much more time intensive than your average blog, which is why you find a slower stream of stories being posted at TIAS as opposed to other websites. A story might percolate for months before I sit down to write. I would love to be able to spend all my time on TIAS or step it up into a full-fledged online magazine put together by a small staff, but again soccer is a hard sell.
What is your favorite soccer media (book/movie/tv show, etc)?
Grant Wahl's book, 'The David Beckham Experiment,' is right up there now, for many reasons beyond it being about American soccer. Franklin Foer's 'How Soccer Explains The World' is there too. If Vanity Fair would hurry up and spin off a soccer magazine, than it would win out.
What is your predicted starting XI for USMNT at South Africa 2010, first game? (That's a loaded question indeed!)
Howard, Spector, Onyewu, DeMerit, Bocanegra, Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Feilhaber, Donovan, Davies, Altidore