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.