an interview with professional goal guardian kofi sarkodie

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Kofi Sarkodie Career ProgressionWhen it comes to interviews, if you look at my track record, it’s pretty clear that I’ll talk to just about anyone from the game of football.

And while I’m more than happy to talk to any player from the professional ranks about their experiences, I have a soft spot in particular for players who hail from the state of Ohio. After all, I’m from Ohio myself. And on top of that, a substantial number of my readers and followers call Ohio home, too. So helping to shed some more light on the lives of those who come from my own backyard seems as much a duty as it does a privilege.

Luckily, Ohio has a pretty deep pool of players that populate MLS rosters. And one of the brightest among those that call the Buckeye state home is Houston Dynamo right back, Kofi Sarkodie. A product of Huber Heights — a suburb of Dayton — Kofi has represented the US at the youth level, won a national championship with the Akron Zips and established himself as one of the league’s best up and coming young defenders.

So with the Dynamo off to a blazing start to the 2014 season, this seemed like the perfect time to talk with Kofi to talk about his younger days here in Ohio, the importance of his close relationships with his soccer-playing brothers, and his career to this point.

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an interview with professional supporter massive city ffc

Massive City FFC (Photo Courtesy Manuel Zambrano)

Over the years, I’ve managed to arrange and conduct interviews with nearly the entire spectrum of people in the world of American soccer. From a number of players that entertain us on the pitch — including an Olympic gold medalist — to the club executives who run things behind the scenes to a guy who enables our social watching by running one of the country’s most recognizable soccer bars. These talks and discussions have given me lots of unique perspectives, shedding light on aspects of the game that I would have never thought about otherwise.

But as I was contemplating my next interviewee, I felt there was a glaring omission from across the spectrum of the American soccer experience: the fan.

Like all of the other important parties we’ve talked to above, the supporter is omnipresent within the sport. Soccer is dependent on its supporters to fuel its economy, whether directly through ticket or merchandise purchases or indirectly through television deals. We — myself included — are a vital cog in the world of football. And just like if you were to remove the players, the front offices or means by which we watched our teams play, if you removed the fans, the sport would quickly die.

But I knew I couldn’t interview just any supporter. It had to be someone who his peers could look up to, be inspired by, or strive to emulate. This fan would need to be a supporter that adds to and improves the experience of those who have the privilege of taking in the match with him.

Luckily, I just so happen to know one.

Allow me to introduce you to Justin Bell, better known by his online pseudonym @MassiveCityFFC. The founder of Massive City Football Fan Corps, Justin is hands down one of the most vocal supporters of the Columbus Crew. From writing and talking on the Massive Report, to leading cheers in Crew Stadium’s Nordecke to designing supporter gear, popular club imagery and tifos — including the spectacular “HOME” banner at the last Dos A Cero – Justin has played a significant role in creating the pop culture that surrounds and supports the Crew in Columbus and beyond.

And even more lucky, Justin was so kind to sit down with me to talk about his work, his time supporting the Crew, and his thoughts on the club’s future.

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an interview with professional soccer documentary director shilpi gupta

through soccer, shilpi gupta aims to help change the lives of teens around the world.

through soccer, shilpi gupta aims to help change the lives of teens around the world. (photo credit: Taneisha Berg)

Looking back over the last few years of my writing, you find that most of the thousands upon thousands of the words I’ve written have been spent talking about the beautiful game itself: the players, the teams, the managers, the fans and the culture that surrounds it.

But in all the time I’ve spent grumbling over failed strategies and transfers, or singing the praises of the great things I’ve watched take place on the pitch, I’ve actually talked very little about the good things the game of soccer is really capable of accomplishing. And that’s a shame. Because with love of the game nearly universal across the globe, the sport has the unique power to be used as a vehicle for social change on every continent and in nearly every country and culture.

And what better way to learn just how the game is capable of giving back to the world that adores it than to speak to someone who actually keeps track of such things with video.

Enter Shilpi Gupta. An award-winning director  — her documentary When the Storm Came won the prestigious Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival — Shilpi’s latest project takes an intimate look at how soccer can inspire peace among teenagers from around the world. Changing the Game follows three sets of teens from inner-city Philadelphia, AIDS-ravaged South Africa, and war-torn Israel and Palestine on their journeys from their homelands to compete in South Africa at the Football for Peace Festival as part of the 2010 World Cup.

Shilpi spoke with me about how she chose to focus on soccer’s powerful reach, about the children whom the game has helped rise above their chaotic backgrounds, and her progress on bringing Changing the Game to screens the world over. Continue reading

an interview with professional club executive peter wilt

If you were to survey supporters groups from clubs around the globe about their biggest gripe with their clubs, I’d be willing to wager that the leading complaint would be that there isn’t enough communication between themselves and the club’s executives. Take a walk around the American soccer landscape, and you’re bound to hear it too. And while there might be other popular gripes — such as ticket prices or on-field management — the avenue for the fans to have those complaints heard often isn’t even there to begin with.

Peter Wilt of Indy Eleven

while i’m not really the reporter interviewing indy eleven president and GM peter wilt in this picture, i did speak with him on a variety of topics.

So when you see clubs that actively engage with their fans, asking them their opinions and looking for input on a variety of club matters, it’s usually applauded far and wide. The close relationships that exist between club and fans in Orlando, Seattle and Philadelphia are well-known, but until rather recently, were far from the norm. But the lessons learned in those markets isn’t falling on deaf ears, and more and more clubs are slowly starting to reap the benefits of working closely with their most ardent fans to help grow the team’s popularity and stature. But where did the idea come from in the fist place?

The man many would pin as the pioneer of this emerging trend in American soccer: Peter J. Wilt.

Best known as former president and general manager of the Chicago Fire, Wilt has attained legendary status for the transparency with which he runs his clubs and the open communication channels he holds with supporters. A frequent participant in discussions on fan message boards and an ardent Tweet-a-holic, there’s arguably no other executive in American soccer that the average fan has an easier time gaining an audience with.

Case in point? After recently launching the successful bid to make Indy Eleven the latest franchise to join the rapidly growing NASL, I reached out to Peter to see if he might be interested in an interview. He accepted my request in less than five minutes.

So with the Milwaukee native’s ear at my disposal, I asked Peter to dish on his plans for the newly formed Indy Eleven, the state of the game in North America, and even on his hopes for the beer that will be available at the club’s future matches.

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an interview with professional shot stopper clint irwin

Colorado Rapids Goalkeeper Clint Irwin

the latest player i’ve coerced to answer my questions: the rapids’ clint irwin.

Goalkeepers: they always make for such interesting individuals. If nothing else, there’s something intriguing about a guy that willingly places himself in the line of fire for 90 minutes week in and week out. Diving and throwing himself, sometimes blindly, about through the air, clattering into players and the ground, sacrificing one’s body all just to keep a sphere from going between a pair of sticks. It takes a, umm, special kind of person to be such a glutton for punishment.

Not only that, but often times many goalkeepers do all of that week in and week out in training without much hope of actually getting to see the pitch during the next game. After all, only one keeper per team gets to play each match. Veteran backups and youngsters alike patiently await their opportunity, and for some it never comes.

But every once in a while, an opportunity does come to pass where a new face is given a chance to shine. And it just so happens that such an opportunity just arose for Colorado Rapids rookie Clint Irwin. A surprise starter in the last few matches for the Rapids, Irwin and I had a conversation about his gradual rise to the big time and his breakthrough into MLS.

And as you might expect from a goal keeper, it was definitely an interesting talk.

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an interview with professional olympic gold medalist heather mitts

To slightly misquote Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, the girls are back in town. Yup, you heard that right. Women’s professional soccer is back.

Heather Mitts of the USWNT and Boston Breakers

heather mitts dishes with WSOTP on her olympic triumphs, the new women’s pro league, and more.

Resurrected from the ashes of the failed WPS and WUSA through a jointly subsidized venture by the USSF, the Canadian Soccer Association and the Mexican Football Federation, the new eight team National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is looking to finally find the right formula for women’s soccer in the States.

The first order of business for the fledgling league was to allocate the fifty-five players whose salaries are covered by their respective national federations, and I was intrigued to see who ended up where. Would big name players stay with their older clubs, or would some be picked up teams closer to home? And of all the players out there, the one I always tend to keep an eye out for is fellow Cincinnati native, Heather Mitts.

A long time member of the US Women’s National Team setup with an impressive 138 caps, Heather has earned three Olympic Gold medals and a World Cup runner’s up medal in the process. Mitts is also one of the few players in NWSL who has had the privilege of playing in the other two editions of a top-tier American women’s league. And if for some reason you’ve not heard of the marking back for her on-field exploits, it’s quite possible you have heard about her off of it thanks to stunning good looks that have earned her a modeling career. All in all, not too bad a gig for a girl from Ohio.

So with the launch of the new league just around the corner, I thought this would be a great time to reach out to Heather to pick her brain about NWSL, her career with the national team and more.

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an interview with the professional soccer pub barristers at the football factory at legends

Despite being the cultural center of our nation, New York City is an inherently very eclectic city. One could ramble on for hours about all of the various intricacies of the metropolis: its hustle and bustle nature, the nightlife, its skyscrapers and sprawl, taxis and subways, the glitz and glam of 5th Avenue, all the shows and performers, a vast array of five-star restaurants… there’s literally too much to talk about.

The Football Factory at Legends

anytime you have the chance to conduct an interview that involves beer, you jump at it.

But the thing I love most about the city is its cultural diversity and the influence it has on the city. Millions have immigrated to the Big Apple from all four corners of the globe, and they’ve all managed to influence the city’s aura and feel by bringing with them their traditions and culture. And as you might imagine, a love for football is something that many of them brought in tow.

For that reason, New York has become the nation’s defacto-soccer capital. A quick walk down the streets of Manhattan will tell you as much: in my three days in the city last week, I saw people wearing the shirts of Napoli, Chelsea, Palmeiras, Arsenal, Barcelona, PSG, UNAM Pumas, Borussia Dortmund among others. Make a short hop across the Hudson River into New Jersey, and you’ll find one of the country’s preeminent soccer stadiums in Red Bull Arena. Pick up games can be found at literally every park in the city at nearly any hour. And it’s long been known that MLS wants to place a second team in the city, and they may resurrect the legendary Cosmos to do so.

But one of the other footy features of the city that can’t be overlooked is its vast array of soccer bars. In my hometown of Cincinnati, there are only two or three bars that consider themselves to be of that vein. But if you’re hoping to watch with a crowd, you better hope it’s a major final or an important US National Team match. New York’s soccer pubs, however, are not only light years ahead of those in the Midwest (apologies to Chicagoans: you do have a few good spots in your town), you actually have a choice on where you get to watch.

One of those options, in my humble opinion at least, stands out from the crowd: The Football Factory at Legends. Located directly across West 33rd Street from the Empire State Building, Legends could generally be classified as an Irish Pub, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. After descending a wrought iron and marble staircase into the basement, you find yourself in a football fan’s paradise. Eighteen HD TV’s hang among a vast collection of flags, scarves, jerseys and pictures from the game, meaning you can watch just about any match so long as you can find a satellite feed or internet stream.

Panoramic of The Football Factory at Legends

this panoramic of the football factory at legends shows why many consider the bar an american soccer mecca (click to enlarge).

And luckily, I was able to arrange a sit down with the man behind The Football Factory, Irishman Jack Keane. Over a steady stream of pints, Jack and I spoke in detail about just how he was able to spawn one of the finest soccer pubs in the land of the free.

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an interview with professional sports apparel company founder claudio storelli

You know what sucks about getting older and still playing the beautiful game? Those little niggling injuries.

Claudio Storelli of Storelli Sports

meet claudio storelli, one of the founders of storelli sports.

When I was kid, the little knocks and scrapes that I’d pick up over the course of a game didn’t seem like that big of a deal. The next day, I’d be a bit sore and maybe need a band-aid or two, but I could play on mostly unaffected. Though I’m sure my mother would have preferred I not pick up so many so she wasn’t always having to bleach the blood out of my uniforms and practice gear.

But these days — now that the youthful adrenaline and testosterone has drained from my body — those same little knocks and scrapes are anything but a little deal. Bruises ache for days, if not weeks. Scrapes seem to take forever to heal, and my work pants always get stuck to them. I’m still limping about from a slide tackle I took last week. And now it’s my wife that’s stuck having to get the stains out of my clothes.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way for me to minimize those annoying little injuries? Something that would be low profile or look like I’ve wrapped myself in foam like the kid from “The Little Giants”.

Luckily, there is… and I actually know the guy who makes it. In fact, I grew up playing with him. And I recently sat down with Claudio Storelli, the founder of Storelli Sports, so he could tell us about his up and coming brand of protective gear for soccer players of all ages and abilities.

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an interview with professional goal-scorer chris rolfe

Sometimes, it’s all about who you know. Personal connections are the engine that drives the planet: from the business world to the world of sports. Many a successful career have been launched off the backs of people’s relationships with existing big achievers.

chris rolfe on skype

chris and i didn’t actually talk face to face for this interview, so i stole this picture from the internet.

And in the case of my blog, it’s probably all about who I know.

Since the very early days of the blog, I’ve been piggybacking off the success of Dayton-native Chris Rolfe’s professional career. In fact, a major wave of the early traffic on the site can be attributed to my posts about the former Chicago Fire star. Few stateside were writing about Chris at the time, and by offering his fans a non-Danish option to keep tabs on his career at Aalborg BK, I reaped the rewards of the Google gods, receiving a plethora of page hits and new subscriptions.

Of course, none of that would have been possible if life wasn’t all about “who you know.”

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