My Interview with Mr. Phil West

By MLSAces
Jan. 19, 2017

The MLS off season is very short but for a blogger like myself producing some articles makes the off season fell so long. But when I do get people to interview and have great conversations, it truly helps! This week I am very excited to bring to you another interview! I am very happy to bring to you an interview that I had with soccer writer Phil West. Mr. West is an enormous MLS and U.S. Men`s National Team advocate. He writes for Howler Magazine, mlssoccer.com, and for Stars and Stripes FC. Mr. West has also just recently released a new book titled The United States of Soccer which you'll find out more about in the interview. I want to thank Mr. West for answering a few questions for me and I hope you guys enjoy a true great U.S. soccer writer!

MLS ACES: I am a huge fan of your writing. I just recently read your piece about Joshua Perez that you wrote for Howler Magazine (it is a great piece and I recommend if you are reading this to go check it out). What is the most enjoyable part about writing for you?

PW: I love the discovery process that comes in reporting: Asking questions, getting answers, and then asking questions that follow naturally from those. Reporting and writing all has its roots for me in learning more about something I'm interested; for Howler particularly, some pieces will have roots in me wanting to express an opinion based on knowledge I already have, but even in those pieces I'm looking to learn more to synthesize those ideas with what I already know.

MLS ACES: You have a brand new book out right name titled "The United States of Soccer". What is the book about and why should someone go out and read it?

PW: It's a history covering the first 20 years of MLS -- it actually starts in 1988, on July 4, when the U.S. was awarded the '94 World Cup and FIFA told the USSF it needed to create a new Division One league, even though NASL fizzled out before the proposed 1995 season. While it was increasingly clear that it would be challenging to get a league launched before the '94 World Cup, it was clear that the event could perhaps be a springboard to launching a new, improved soccer league. And that's where it finds its stride; it covers the efforts to get the league launched, the first few seasons, the hiccups that led to Don Garber becoming commissioner, the near-collapse of the league in 2001, and then its climb back and eventual expansion. But it's also about how supporters' groups were instrumental in helping the league forge its identity and in raising soccer's entire profile in the United States, for the men's and women's national teams as well as for MLS.

MLS ACES: If someone was interested in buying the book where can they go to buy it?

PW: I always recommend buying at a local, independent bookstore, but if yours doesn't have one (or can't get it on special order), or if you prefer the Kindle route, Amazon's got it.

MLS ACES: 2016 was an interesting year in MLS. We had a year that saw a great rookie class, a team dead in the water win MLS Cup, some USMNT players return to the U.S., and much more. How do you feel about this season as a whole? What was your favorite moment from this season?

PW: It was a fun season! I was genuinely surprised to see Seattle rise from such depths, and seeing teams like Colorado and Philadelphia do as well as they did gave credence to the notion of MLS's competitive balance (like Garber, I prefer that term to "parity"). My favorite moment is either FC Dallas winning the Supporters' Shield -- they're a team with great coaching, a team mentality, and a great supporters' group behind it -- or the Montreal-Toronto Eastern Conference Finals series, which was MLS at its wide-open best.

MLS ACES: MLS Cup was a game filled with plenty of stars and what was predicted to be high scoring. Things turned out to be the opposite and now all we will remember is a Frei save and Roman Torres's winning PK. Were you surprised about MLS Cup? How did you feel about the game?

PW: I was surprised -- I felt like it would go to penalty kicks, but only after being 2-2 or 3-3. I did feel like the longer Toronto went without scoring in the match, the more it would favor Seattle, and in retrospect, relying on defense and getting it to penalties was the best scenario for Seattle to win. I was amazed that the Sounders were that flat offensively, but even more amazed that Toronto couldn't score a goal in 120 minutes of play. Though I was a little impatient to be faced with extra time given the tenor of the second half, the Frei save on Altidore was phenomenal -- I predict it will be seen, 10 or 20 years from now, as one of the iconic moments in the league's history.

MLS ACES: How do you feel about the current state of MLS? Do you think the league is moving in the right direction?

PW: Generally, yes. I like the idea of bringing in new teams and not overdoing it. I'm not quite sure it should go beyond 28, but I also know that there will be a number of disappointed soccer fans in quite a few cities if that happens. I think there are enough talented players in the world to fill rosters; it's just a matter of mechanisms that make sense and making sure players get paid without putting the game out of reach for fans to attend games. We're at a very pivotal juncture of the league's development; I'm one of many people eager to see how the next few years play out.

MLS ACES: Recent news in U.S. soccer has been interesting between MLSExpansion, the fall of the NASL, and the rise of the USL. Where would you like to see things settle down in U.S. Soccer?

PW: In an ideal world, you'd see all three leagues co-existing and flourishing, but NASL seems on a slow slide to extinction. My expectation is that some NASL teams will continue to find their way to USL, and USL will eventually run as a two-tiered league rather than one massive league in which fans have to keep track of 36-40 teams. You could even envision promotion and relegation between those tiers, which wouldn't satisfy pro-rel purists who want the system employed amongst all levels, but could provide some additional interest for fans. I feel like the current turmoil will be resolved within the next five years -- certainly not to everyone's satisfaction, and perhaps with a newly-solvent NASL as part of the pyramid, but I see a future with MLS as Division I and USL right below that.

MLS ACES: Do you like where the current state of United States players is? Would you want to see more American players overseas or in MLS?

PW: I'd like to see American players go where they're best able to develop. With players like Pulisic and Perez, who have found coaches that seem to trust them, I think it's great that they're getting experience in Europe. For some players, though, I think that MLS allows them the best track to development: getting playing time as a defender facing the likes of Altidore and Giovinco one week and Drogba and Piatti the next is better than that same defender languishing on a bench in England or Spain just for the prestige of being in leagues there.

The answers that Mr. West gave me to my questions were extremely interesting (on a personal level). I love his view of U.S. soccer, MLS, and worldwide soccer as a whole! I really hope that this interview gave you a sneak peek into the writing of Mr. Phil West. If you want to read more of his work or just hear more of his opinions check him out on Twitter at @philwest, on his website at www.philwest.us, his writings on whatahowler.com, mlssoccer.com, and starsandstripesfc.com. Also, I hope that you guys can go out and buy his book, The United States of Soccer: Major League Soccer and the Rise of American Fandom. Thank you Mr. West and I am excited to read even more from you!

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