The Golden Age of Soccer Magazines

Any sport covetous of the mainstream is without hope if it doesn’t attract a media following commensurate to its ambitions. Happily, we can report that American soccer writing is entering a golden age as the sport burrows itself deeper into the national conscience.

For some years websites like ours have invested considerable time and money into dropping writers amidst the action, taking sharp angles and crafting good sentences. Mainstream magazines like the New Yorker and Newsweek no longer hesitate to profile American soccer players, or even stick them on the cover. 

But the real breakthrough is the advent of soccer literature. Already prevalent in Europe through magazines such as When Saturday Comes, Hard Gras and The Blizzard (edited and founded by our own Jonathan Wilson,) not to mention a pile of books dedicated to the philosophies of the sport’s luminaries and its cultural and anthropological impact, the U.S. is about to enter this rarified realm.

XI Quarterly.

The first ever issue of XI Quarterly (including a story on Johan Cruyff’s tumultuous NASL days co-authored by yours truly) should be sliding through mail boxes any day now. The maiden run of Howler (for which, full disclosure, I have a standing assignment), also a quarterly, is at the printers.

Daily coverage, analysis and profiling in shorter pieces in spaces like ours will remain the sport’s bread and butter. But now, at last, the long-form format is available to the considerable talent on the soccer beat, for the benefit of its readers too. For those stories that merit being told in 4,000 words.

People often ask me when soccer will “arrive”. I’ve never believed it will suddenly displace basketball or football in one seminal moment. (Nor should it want to, because sports that rise quickly tend to travel just as swiftly in the opposite direction.) 

Instead, I tell them to look for small indicators that a sea change is creeping in. This would be one of them: a hint that enough people are presumed willing to sit down with a single soccer story for half an hour that they will sustain two ambitious magazines. – Leander Schaerlaeckens


Check out a teaser for XI’s first issue here.

And an excerpted article on the history of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s tactics here.

Daniel Olea is just one of many Mexican-American kids who have travelled south in recent years, hoping for a professional career in Mexico. A list that users of the website BigSoccer.com maintain is striking for its size (they counted 85 players eligible for the U.S. national team at the start of the 2011-2012 Mexican league season) as well as the difficulty they have in keeping it up to date. Players travel from the United States to Mexico, especially at the youth level, with amazing regularity. Why are Mexican clubs today recruiting Mexican-American players so heavily? A confluence of events, sporting and geopolitical, has led to this situation.

In the United States, the second half of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st have seen two relevant trends: the concurrent growth of youth soccer and the Latino population in the United States. From 1970, when soccer was in its infancy in the United States, the sport has grown to nearly 14 million players today, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Meanwhile, the Latino population of the United States grew from 9.6 million in 1970 (4.7 percent of the total population at the time) to 50.5 million in 2010 (16 percent of the total), according to Princeton scholars Douglas Massey and Karen Pren. A majority of the Latino population in the United States today has family roots in Mexico, and they form the population among which Mexican clubs are finding success recruiting young players.

“You walk in and the U.S. women’s national team is nothing to anybody outside the United States. They were like “Who are you? And how come Americans play soccer? You seem pretty good. Why is that, because your country isn’t very good traditionally?” “I had to prove everything. Everything that they knew about American women soccer players was based on the impression that I gave in soccer practice.”

- Mary Harvey was the goalkeeper for the USWNT’s winning 1991 World Cup team, and played club soccer for FSV Frankfurt. In Issue Two of XI Quarterly, “Americans Abroad,” she explains what life was like as a pioneer women’s soccer player, on her path to becoming the first female and first American director at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

“If, instead of sambaing in the alley between practice, I lay on my bunk and read, they’d say, “Tem problema?” What is wrong? They thought I was sad. I wasn’t sad. By American standards, I am a fairly frequent smiler, and here, I smiled at five times my normal rate, as the smile, coupled with a head nod, was my primary means of communication. But that Brazilian-joy: I didn’t have it. There’s an I’ve-been-to-grad-school part of me that knows it’s problematic to say something like that—to ascribe a character to a country, to exoticize a people, to wax romantic on a culture I was only in for seven weeks—but knowing that didn’t change what I thought: the Brazilians were more alive than I was. “

- In Issue Two of XI Quarterly, “Americans Abroad,” Gwendolyn Oxenham - of Pelada and Chasing the Game fame - writes about her experiences playing for Santos FC in São Paulo in the summer of 2005.

XI Quarterly is celebrating the holidays by offering a temporary holiday special. Until Monday, November 26th, $5 extra adds XI Quarterly issue one to your XI subscription. (It’s usually $15 to add-on issue one to a new subscription, so this is a steal)

Remember, XI thrives on the support of its readers to stay sustainable, so please be sure to share the offer if you know anyone who might be interested. 

Check out the offer here: http://www.xiquarterly.com/2012/11/21/xi-issue-one-special-offer/

While things progressed on the pitch, they stagnated off it. Our shared language and culture notwithstanding, England is a foreign country, and I didn’t fit in particularly well. For one thing, I dressed like a footballer — a footballer perpetually about to begin a training session. This was a serious cultural misread on my part. My logic, I suppose, was that because football is popular in England, footballers must be popular. And indeed they are — the famous ones. But a no-name going everywhere in shiny ’80s tracksuits just looked silly, and looking silly consigned me to being alone most of the time.”

- In Issue Two of XI Quarterly, “Americans Abroad,” Florida-born goalkeeper Justin Bryant writes about the cultural shock he explored pursuing a professional soccer career in England over two decades ago.

On a hot and sweaty evening on Sunday, November 30 1989 in Port-of-Spain, Trindidad, five Americans celebrate Paul Caligiuri’s critical first half goal (“The shot heard around the world”), that ultimately sealed the United States’ passage to the 1990 World Cup, their first appearance for 40 years. All five players pictured had or would play professional soccer overseas, in an era with no division one professional soccer domestically, between the demise of the NASL in 1984 and the launch of MLS in 1996. The five pictured are John Harkes, Paul Caligiuri, Bruce Murray, Tab Ramos and Peter Vermes.

XI Issue Two offers 11 stories about “Americans Abroad,” past and present. Subscribe to the print edition today! (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)