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.
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.