Cobi Jones: 'France shows you that inclusiveness really helps'

Who holds the record for most U.S. national team appearances? Cobi Jones, who donned the U.S. jersey 164 times, from 1992 to 2004. Jones, who served as a Fox Sports commentator for the World Cup in Russia, played in three World Cups (1994, 1998, 2002), and at the 1992 Olympics.

In his post-playing career, besides TV commentary and a stint as assistant coach with the Galaxy (2008-2010), Jones has been advocating for under-served communities as a U.S. Soccer Foundation ambassador, in addition to work with the LA84 Foundation, AmericaSCORES, and Alianza de Futbol.

SOCCER AMERICA: What’d you think about France winning the 2018 World Cup?

COBI JONES: I grew up a little bit of a Francophile, so I thought it was nice to see.

Croatia was a team I was cheering for as well, because they were the dark-horse team and they were the first team I called during the World Cup -- so I knew quite a lot about them.

SA: Was the Francophile factor from watching past French teams?

COBI JONES: I’ve liked the way France team plays, but for me it was also the culture. I took French in high school. My brother studied at Sorbonne. For some reason I always had an appreciation for the French culture.

SA: Any new trends in terms of tactics or playing style you spotted at Russia 2018?

COBI JONES: In general, everything we see is something we’ve seen before, with a little bit of a twist on it. I did like how the games were very fast and maybe a little more tactical in approach.

SA: What did you think about how VAR was implemented?

COBI JONES: I thought it was great. It served its purpose.

Having a World Cup where there wasn’t one red card for serious foul play or violent conduct is remarkable.

That tells me that the addition VAR has had an effect.

SA: It works as a deterrence?

COBI JONES: They know it’s there. The players’ actions can be looked at. The ball could be on the other side of field and if you do something, you can be caught and called out for it. And that has affected the play. That in itself is worthwhile.

SA: Do you wish you had VAR back when you were playing?

COBI JONES: Of course. Every player always has something … “If VAR was there, we would have won that game” [laughs]. … That’s the nature of sports. As players, we’ll never say, “Oh there was that one that I did get away with.” They won’t say I wish we had it for that.

Cobi Jones at Russia 2018 with Fox colleagues Fernando Fiore, Kate Abdo and Guus Hiddink. (Photos courtesy Fox Sports)

SA: You played in MLS, for the LA Galaxy, in its first 12 seasons (1996-2007). How do you compare those years of MLS with the league today?

COBI JONES: I think MLS has been great throughout.

If you took the best teams from early years, they would compete with the best teams now. The big difference in MLS now, instead of having two, three, four teams at the beginning that were very good, now you can get up to 14, 15, 16 that are playing at the top level. That’s a good thing to have. We’re seeing it get better, better and better and improve all the time.

I think we’ve seen a shift in the style of play, since the addition of, most people would say, Atlanta.

But I’d give Jesse Marsch some credit, for the way the Red Bulls were playing, that high-press, constantly pressing the opponent and getting the pace of the game going non-stop.

The way Atlanta is playing -- high-intensity throughout and constant attacking, is an entertaining style of play.

SA: What about MLS’s role in the progress of American soccer in general?

COBI JONES: MLS plays a huge part in the success of the U.S. national team, even more so that it did in the past. MLS now has its academies, so it’s reaching down into the younger ages. That’s extremely important.

What I’d like to see is MLS, U.S. Soccer -- all soccer in this country -- have a broader reach. Bringing in more people, people in the under-served communities.

That’s going to be important if we want to take it to the next level.

That’s where MLS, U.S. Soccer is still not working at full force. It’s what we really need to focus on, getting into those areas under-served communities to give them the chance to showcase.

SA: France winning the World Cup is another big reminder of the power of diversity in soccer …

COBI JONES: France shows you that inclusiveness really helps on the soccer field. It shines.

France isn’t the only one. One other example is Switzerland, which fielded a variety of different people who bring creativity and new style, and that’s important.

The biggest thing for me is to try and help give a bigger reach into the African-American community as far as going and providing the resources and opportunities for the young black kids to participate in this sport.

SA: Although there’s good representation of black players in the U.S. national team program, the sport of soccer in the USA does differ from its traditional sports – in that the path up the youth soccer is an expensive one …

COBI JONES: There is the pay-to-play problem. That’s a big barrier for some people. Not everybody has discretionary income -- the ability to come up with another few hundred dollars for this trip or that. A lot of people in this country do not have that.

The reaching out needs to be more. There needs to be more effort going into the urban communities and making it accessible.

SA: The black community in the USA also includes kids of Caribbean and African immigrants …

COBI JONES: Yes, people have to remember it’s a very diverse makeup. Not everyone in the black community has the same background. The Caribbean and African immigrant community may be more in tune with soccer.

But I believe the sport is growing tremendously overall. I go through the Baldwin Hills area, an African-American community [in Southern California], and I don’t see, like it was 20 years ago, just football, basketball and baseball all the time. There is a significant soccer culture. I see kids with the adidas sweats with the Samba shoes. Vintage soccer jerseys, Galaxy jerseys and now, LAFC jerseys. You see it all the time, in the African-American community.

I want to make sure those kids also have the opportunity to shine at soccer. We need to find a way to give everybody a shot.

SA: While on the one hand, youth soccer has seen tremendous growth, with for example, MLS clubs investing in youth programs. But are there aspects of U.S. youth soccer that are negative compared to when you played youth ball in the 1980s?

COBI JONES: I get shocked. I think it’s so confusing.

When I was playing, what I loved is you played at the school that was right there. Or the team that was right in your neighborhood. I hear stories of kids traveling 60 miles to train so they’re on the “right” team.

Climbing up the ladder is not doable for everybody if playing on the “right” team means traveling 60 miles for training, and lord knows what the tournaments are going to be that go along with it.

If I was playing now, as a youth I’m not sure I would be able to make it. Because I would not have been able to play on the “right” team. My parents wouldn’t be traveling twice a week in rush hour 60 miles. No chance. Both my parents worked. That wasn’t going to happen.

We’ve got to make sure we can help out in some way.

SA: Your sons are 7 and 4 now. Do they play soccer?

COBI JONES: The older one is going on his third year and the younger one is about to start.

SA: Do you coach their teams?

COBI JONES: No, I go to games, sit over by the side, and just try to be mellow.

SA: So the other parents see, if Cobi Jones is mellow on the sideline we can be mellow too?

COBI JONES: That’s the idea, right? I try to lead by example.

SA: Do you want to get back into coaching?

COBI JONES: Yes, now I do. I definitely needed a step back after all the years I put into the sport. But now I’m interested in coaching again.

12 comments about "Cobi Jones: 'France shows you that inclusiveness really helps'".
  1. Wallace Wade, July 19, 2018 at 6:48 p.m.

    Too bad US Immigration is non-functioning. Just try to get a long term visa for a foreign Coach or player! Broken

  2. s fatschel replied, July 20, 2018 at 9:35 a.m.

    WW. This is an excellent topic.  My understanding is that you need to be a proven top level player or coach in another to get that visa for sports....the P1.   So getting alot of top foreign coaches for youth is unlikely. And that makes sense since soccer is really entertainment and lower priority than say medical or engineering experts.

  3. uffe gustafsson, July 19, 2018 at 7:24 p.m.

    yes soccer start to be like american football as in going to the right HS so you will be seen.
    look at so cal and the dominant clubs and HS for girls soccer. Colleges from all over the US have clinics in the LA area to scout players.
    some of them have former parents of the colleges to check out HS games.
    went to a college clinic in LA for a school my daughter had on her list of colleges, swarthmore college and sure enough many of the girls had been scouted by former swarthmore alumni.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, July 20, 2018 at 4:15 a.m.

    Excellent interview, Mike. I think Cobi makes a lot of good points.

    To add to the point about the dominance of USSF "pay for play" and the stark lack of diversity in elite youth soccer, over 40% of US citizens don't have enough money to pay for a $400 emergency expense much less a $400 discretionary item. Comparison of the cost of even recreational soccer to $400 is not a pretty picture if you include family expenses like soccer shoes.

    From a development standpoint playing in ordinary shoes, not cleats, has development benefits so why are we requiring all youth players to have soccer shoes? Any all purpose flat shoe (not running shoes) serves the purpose fine. I grew up playing tennis and I always bought cheap deck shoes and never used real tennis shoes like adult country club players wore. Same thing. Youth soccer is run as a for-profit industry rather than an amateur youth sport.     

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, July 20, 2018 at 4:16 a.m.

    Sorry Uffe. That was intended as a "comment" to the article and not a specific "reply" to your comment.

  6. s fatschel, July 20, 2018 at 9:09 a.m.

    Really wish SA would ask the experts better questions. We already know pay to play is a major issue and travel needs to be reduced. Why doesn't SA ask "what would you specifically change in youth soccer to address pay to play and travel".   

  7. R2 Dad, July 20, 2018 at 12:21 p.m.

    RE:SA: What about MLS’s role in the progress of American soccer in general?

    I would have liked Cobi to have commented on MLS selling players to other leagues ie the Zack Steffen-to-Bristol City transfer. Selling your players to other leagues is good business,is the norm in the sport, and should be embraced by MLS. $4M for a keeper with 3 USMNT caps is good business, and will allow him to continue growing. Take the money and plow it into the academy--there are a half-dozen keepers the Crew can steal from other teams--they just have to pay the other academy to get one. Once MLS frees up this lower end of the market to transfers, they will make significant improvement in literally greasing the wheels of progress. MLS has been inhibiting this freedom because it wants to be a monopoly before it wants to serve the needs of this soccer nation.

    Change only happens when the head of USSF sells the benefits. So far Carlos has done...what? Changed...what?

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, July 21, 2018 at 5:05 p.m.

    Carlos has changed the structure and organization of USSF switching to more of a partnership type model with committees doing a lot of the management rather than executives. He has created an additional layer of middle managers and reduced the authority of the national team coaches.

  9. frank schoon replied, July 22, 2018 at 2:18 a.m. many years is this Carlos guy in for President ?

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, July 22, 2018 at 10:29 p.m.

    The terms are 4 years.

  11. R2 Dad replied, July 23, 2018 at 8:45 a.m.

    Does a light re-org count as change, really?

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, July 23, 2018 at 10:36 a.m.

    These management changes are not program changes. If that is what you are getting at, then no there has not been any program changes. 

    These management changes, however, are significant. A committee structure is cumbersome and more resistive to change. That is the significance I see. At a time that USSF needs change, it has reorganized to make the management of changes more difficult.

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