- After getting involved heavily on the Southern California youth soccer scene with his daughter and becoming an LAFC season-ticket holder, The Ringer's Bill Simmons notes the many flaws in the U.S. youth system and has some ideas for MLS.
On the latest episode of the Planet Fútbol Podcast, SI.com interviews HBO’s Bill Simmons, the founder and CEO of The Ringer, about his experience over the last five years getting deep into Southern California youth soccer with his daughter—including being part of starting a new youth club. Simmons shares his thoughts on the youth soccer system in the U.S. and, as an LAFC season-ticket holder, on what MLS is doing and not doing well.
You can listen to the full conversation in the podcast console below and subscribe to and download the Planet Fútbol Podcast on iTunes. Recent guests include ESPN's Katie Nolan, former U.S. women's national team forward Abby Wambach, former U.S. men's national team forward Eddie Johnson, broadcasters Bob Ley and Derek Rae and U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
Here some of the highlights of the conversation:
On youth soccer and U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy:
“If you play on a Development Academy team, they say you can’t play for your high school. Right? So now you’re basically turning your kids into professional athletes when they’re 15. There’s no way in hell I wouldn’t want my daughter to play … in high school next year as a ninth-grader. What is better than playing for your high school team? That’s the single most important thing you can do as an athlete until you go to college.”
On what MLS owners need to do:
“It’s crazy to me that rich people just haven’t said, Let’s make the MLS a real thing. Let’s like quintuple the salary cap. Let’s just go for it.”
On being an LAFC season ticket holder:
“They were able to build a tradition in the span of like three weeks. There’s the eagle at the beginning, and they have the whole side behind one of the goals, everyone’s standing and doing chants the whole game and people are holding scarves up. And the logos. It kind of felt like the team had been around for 28 years, and meanwhile they’d been around for, you know, two weeks.”
On the quality of play in MLS:
“Unfortunately, the problem with the MLS is that the soccer is not as good as the experience. I think people love going to soccer games and being fans and emulating what they see in Europe and all these different places, and the soccer just isn't good enough yet. It's fine. It's probably somewhere between double- and triple-A baseball, I would say.
"But the stands are major league. The fans and the experience and the stadiums, and you have all these rich owners now that are frustrated because they can't get into the NBA or the NFL oh, so this is where they've taken their sports ownership juices, basically. But if you actually watch the games? It's like, I went to this LAFC-New England Revolution game in [September], it was honestly one of the worst sporting events I've ever been to. It was so awful. The Revolution had like 20 fouls. They were just being thugs, they just weren't that talented. And it was just awful. I was like, ‘Oh man, this is not a fun way to spend a Saturday.’ But then you go to other games, and the soccer is close enough that it's fine. Every team has a couple really good players they can kind of latch onto.”
On why the Krafts are perhaps the best owners in the NFL but maybe the worst in MLS:
“It's too bad. It's so easy and simple. They just need to build like a 22,000-seat soccer stadium somewhere in Boston that everyone can get to by an Uber. And put it in Cambridge, put it in the Seaport, wherever the hell you're going to put it, put it next to Suffolk Downs, whatever. It just needs to be 22,000 people, and they'll get a lot of college kids. You can't go to those games in Gillette. It's the same problem the WNBA has. The WNBA insists on putting their games in these NBA arenas, and then there's 2,000 people there and it's the most depressing place in the world. And you look at the Revs, and they're in the 70,000-seat football stadium, it's ludicrous. There's no energy at all. It's the worst. LAFC is like 28,000. So I would say either sell or try to build that stadium. Honestly, 22,000 is probably not big enough. Maybe 25,000?”
On sexism in youth soccer:
“Everything is geared toward boys’ soccer, especially in Southern California. These big clubs, they just care about the boys teams more. Their boys teams get better practice times, better fields, better everything. Better resources. Better coaching. It’s kind of shocking. I had never considered myself a sports feminist. And it was weird to go through this situation where you’re like, ‘Wow, my daughter is getting the short end of the stick because she’s female.’”
On what U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro should do with the youth soccer system:
“Carlos Cordeiro. Listen, Carlos, if you’re listening, this sucks, what’s going on right now. It’s really bad. We’re in a situation now with this club that we’ve built. We have 130 girls, one-third of them are scholarship. We’re playing the style that everyone wants America to play but we don’t. And we’re on the outside because we’re not one of the Starbucks clubs. I would love to know what the solution is for that. Your system that we’ve created for youth soccer does not allow for outliers.”
On his advice to youth soccer parents:
“To the parents out there, pick a side in the games. Then all get your chairs and stuff, and then you go on that one side. You don’t get to do the things where you’re kind of on both sides, because that’s how fights happen in games. Pick a side.”