Panel: The Growth of Soccer in the United States

Cobi Jones [2:40]

Text Size

Three of the greatest advocates for soccer in the United States – Cobi Jones, the all-time leader for appearances on the U.S. national team; Claudio Reyna, former captain of the U.S. national team; and Ed Foster-Simeon, President and CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation – discuss soccer’s growth across the country and their careers in the sport. 

Cobi Jones, on teamwork and leadership: “I always wanted to play and have fun – that was my personality. I used to think a leader had to be a screamer or a die hard. I took on some of those aspects, but for the most part, I made captain [of the LA Galaxy] because I had a good time, I worked hard and I made sure everybody around me was doing the same. However, [soccer] is not just about one person’s [skill or leadership]. No single player has every quality that a leader needs to have, but when you bring a group together, you can succeed.”

Claudio Reyna, on the rise of soccer in the U.S. in the past 20 years: “[When we began playing in the 1990s], there were a lot of players who missed out because there was no league. There was no opportunity. Now everyone can play – not only boys and girls, but players at all levels. Now, if you’re a professional player, or you want to play professional soccer, you can play in the U.S.”

Ed Foster-Simeon, on the social impact of youth sports: “99.9 percent of the children who play in any sport are not going to become professional athletes. They’re going to work and take jobs and have to learn to be leaders and productive citizens. The engagement in sports – and the investment in those children in a way that prepares them for that – is really important, particularly in communities where the social infrastructure is fragile and there aren’t enough positive role models for children.”


Q: What was your first job?
CJ: “I was the maintenance guy for a softball league. My soccer coach ran the parks and recreation, and he gave jobs out to all his players who needed them.”

Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
CJ: “Take time for your family because work will always be there.” 

Q: Who is a person you admire or who inspires you?
CJ: “My parents. My parents are a bit older – my mom’s almost 80, my dad’s in his 80s. They grew up during segregation. My dad – he has a PhD in chemistry – remembers all the black workers at a company where he worked being surprised that he was walking through the front door. It really hit me to fully realize what he grew up with.”


Q: What was your first job?
CR: “I was a caddy at a golf course in Springfield, New Jersey.”

Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
CR: “Keep things simple.”

Q: Who is a person you admire or who inspires you?
CR: “My parents. They emigrated from Argentina, and I didn’t realize until I was older how courageous that was. I moved to Germany when I was 20 and I didn’t know the language, the culture, the people, what to do and where to go. I realized this must have been what it was like for my parents when they moved to the United States. They moved for a better life – not for them, really. It was more to provide a better opportunity for me and my brother.”


Q: What was your first job?
“My first job was cleaning boilers. Big, industrial furnaces, going inside of them and using a wire brush to clean them out.”

Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
EF-S: “Never give up. Life is full of ups and downs and challenges, and it’s very easy to not go forward because of a fear of failure. Just keep going forward no matter what.”

Q: Who is a person you admire or who inspires you?
EF-S: “My grandmother. She was a sharecropper’s daughter with a fourth grade education. She made her way, made a life for herself, and always instilled in me the idea that you could accomplish anything if you put your mind to it, and if you put your mind to getting a decent education.”