Now landing in your inbox and not mailbox, Soccer America's strengths remain true

The first time I spoke to Mike Woitalla  he was a little standoffish. Understandably so. It was back near the start of the century, and I'd called him out of the blue to ask him what he thought of two new soccer magazines that had just hit the U.S. market. Did Soccer America  feel threatened by the competition?

I was writing a piece for a long since defunct soccer website, but I was also using the column to make contact with all three editors. Clearly, I wasn't just comparing the publications for the benefit of my readership. I was touting for work too. Like many U.S. soccer writers at that time, I was pretty much working for free -- trying to promote the game in North America, and at the same time a willing participant in my own exploitation.

Once we'd established that we were both contributors to the UK magazine When Saturday Comes, Mike began to warm up. “We’ve been around 34 years," he said. "It’s nothing new, and there have been at least 20 magazines that have come and gone. But we welcome it.” Speaking of new rival Striker, he pointed out that “the game’s becoming more popular. It also gives us the inspiration to improve and examine ourselves. The market for soccer magazines is bigger than people realize.”

The question was, though, “how the market will react.” In the past, he said, now extinct magazines had tried to capture the youth soccer player market, but in his experience, “many young soccer players would rather be treated like adults."

Striker, which was produced in New York by the same company that published the basketball magazine Slam, lasted no more than a handful of issues, possibly just two. On Linkedin, its former editor (who took umbrage at me pointing out in my review that a "Charlie Osgood" mentioned in Striker had never existed, let alone played for Chelsea -- so, there was no work for me ... ) doesn't even list the magazine on his resume. The second magazine, 90 Minutes, hung around for about a year, maybe two.

And Soccer America? As Mike forecast, it's still here, celebrating its 50th birthday, even if it now lands in your inbox and not your mailbox. The strengths listed in my roundup 16 years ago remain as true now as they were then. "Expert, established writers" -- Mike and Paul Kennedy have been running the ship since the 1980s, thoroughly vetting every word you send them.

A "feisty letters page," which has now been transferred to the comments section that reflects the political and philosophical variety of both its readership and the country at large. "Breadth of coverage" -- no other U.S. sports portal covers soccer so widely and in such depth. Finally, I mentioned the "always interesting" columnist Paul Gardner. When I met him for the first time two years later at the NCAA convention in Baltimore, along with the rest of the SA crew, he did not object to me also having described him as an "old curmudgeon." Like all the staff, he was genial, funny, easy-going, and loved to talk about the game with the same entertaining clarity and honesty that hits you in his prose. He fit right in with the whole Soccer America ethos. And he's still always interesting.

A couple of years after I'd left the U.S., I met up with Mike again while on vacation on the West Coast. Would I be interested in writing a regular column, he wanted to know. What about? I asked. Whatever you feel like, he replied. I was skeptical that I would really be granted such freedom, but he has been true to his word, and to the democratic principles of a stalwart publication that has served the U.S. game magnificently now for half a century.

Happy anniversary, Soccer America!

(Ian Plenderleith is author of The Quiet FanRock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League, For Whom the Ball Rolls, and The Chairman's Daughter. Publications he's written for include The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and When Saturday Comes.)

8 comments about "Now landing in your inbox and not mailbox, Soccer America's strengths remain true".
  1. Adam Cohen, April 12, 2021 at 10:40 a.m.

    congrats SA!  I've been a daily reader for at least 20 years so you must be doing it right.   Cheers!

  2. Perry McIntyre, April 12, 2021 at 11:30 a.m.

    Ian most likely met Paul, et al, from SA at the NSCAA Convention in Baltimore, not the NCAA.....

  3. Ian Plenderleith replied, April 14, 2021 at 5:03 p.m.

    Apologies for that - I've been out of the US too long and have got sloppy with my acronyms...

  4. cony konstin, April 12, 2021 at 12:36 p.m.

    I love SOCCER AMERICA... and I love the people who have dedicated their lives for keeping us not just informed but most importantly keeping it honest and overseeing the pulse of our nation's beautiful game.... Without them there would just be an empty abyss of nothingness. But instead we get both a box of chocolates and a bowl of cherries. Longlive Clay! LONGLIVE SOCCER AMERICA!

  5. Santiago 1314, April 12, 2021 at 4:46 p.m.

    Ian, I don't know if you consider yourself "Old"... but, you are Definitely becomeing the "curmudgeon" we like to Rant at.!!! .... Keep up the "always Interesting" articles...
    You might follow up your article from 3/30, with one Titled... "For Whom the Ball TrOLLS" ... Start with Lletget  ... of course.... You might get "Cancelled" or some of us "Posters" will... Congrats to all at SA, been enjoying the reading for at least 47 years.

  6. Ian Plenderleith replied, April 14, 2021 at 5 p.m.

    Heh. Friends and family have been calling me a curmudgeon since I was about 15, and have long been wondering, "God only knows what you'll be like when you get old." 

  7. Craig Cummings, April 12, 2021 at 7:56 p.m.

    I  think it was 1978 when I first got SA. Keep up the GREAT soccer  stuff guys and gals. I still miss those big weekly mags.

  8. beautiful game, April 15, 2021 at 10:43 a.m.

    SA, thanks for all the memories, and future editions to come. Your track record of quality soccer information is stupendous.

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