No B.S. – Simmons and Lalas Talk Soccer

UPDATE:  Support the petition to get Bill Simmons to the US qualifier against Costa Rica in RFK and sitting with the American Outlaws.

Simmons: This is the summer that I inexplicably fell for soccer. I can’t explain it. I don’t know why it happened now. I don’t know if it is like a mid-life crisis, but I have thrown myself into the US National Team and the English Premier League.

Lalas remains one of the most recognized faces in US soccer.

Lalas remains one of the most recognized faces in US soccer.

Lalas: You don’t have to explain it. It’s like…uh…love. You know, it just happens. You got to go with it.

And thus began a meandering, but interesting 58-minute conversation between ESPN’s Bill Simmons (aka The Sports Guy) and Alexi Lalas early this week as part of Simmons’ B.S. Report podcast.

Say what you want about his motivation for covering the sport or knowledge of the game, but the increasing coverage of soccer by Bill Simmons (aka The Sports Guy) can only be a good thing. This isn’t Simmons first foray into the world’s #1 game. A couple of years ago he wrote a two part piece about picking his EPL team—Tottenham Spurs. But, ultimately, Simmons lost interest.

Within the last few months, Simmons has been hinting at the rise of soccer (along with the return of his interest) and then a few weeks ago came his (long) recounting of his experience at Azteca on August 12. Filled with references to popular American sports and written from the perspective of a fledgling soccer fan it is fun read focused on the passion exhibited by the Mexican fans. (Note: Set aside about 20 minutes when you have time…it is that long.)

While in Mexico, Simmons met Alexi Lalas for the first time; Lalas was covering the game for ESPN. Earlier this week Simmons invited Lalas on his podcast (which I believe is the most downloaded podcast on iTunes). What I found most interesting is that Simmons provides a good perspective on what it is like for an American sports fan to be intrigued by the game enough to want to know more, but still early in his understanding of the sport. For his part, Lalas plays a great role as teacher and ambassador.

A few highlights:

  • Simmons says that Mexico had the ultimate home field advantage at Azteca due to Lando’s swing flu…although Donovan contracted H1N1 in the States, it originated from Mexico.
  • Lalas believes that Saprissa is a tougher place to play than Azteca
  • Simmons questions why the US doesn’t have a national stadium in Soccertown USA. (Sound familiar?)
  • They debate who is / would be the best American soccer player who is currently playing another professional sport. (This includes the surprising – at least to me – contention by Lalas that size trumps skill in building the prototypical player.)
  • Lalas recounts his quest to find a college soccer team. (He ultimately “settled” on Rutgers)
  • Germany is Lalas’ pick to win the World Cup with England definitely not winning it.

If you get a chance it’s worth a listen.

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16 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/27 at 8:02 AM

    I thought the conversation meandered, but was definitely interesting.

    The point about 2-hour games that can have a range of fans who are kids to those who tailgate was a good one.

    A few other nuggets of interest are Lalas’s agriculture major at college and the fact that he just started rooting for an American football team.

    I do think though given Simmons impact on feature writing (he’s not a reporter–he doesn’t break anything and he’s not a true analyst because he never played) in sports today and exposure on ESPN, if he doesn’t *continue his coverage and make it more qualitative, it will do a disservice to the sport.

    So I’m hoping that Simmons stays along for the ride, increases his knowledge and exposure to increase the knowledge and exposure in the fanbase because if he just lets his interest whither it will impact the millions (I would imagine its low millions) who are not fans and are finding soccer through his writing exclusively right now.

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/27 at 8:14 AM

      You’re just mad he chose Tottenham over Everton…kidding.

      Simmons covers sports from the (super) fans perspective which means interesting story lines, game experiences, drafts, etc. I think we need our friends at the Outlaws to invite him to sit with them at a WC qualifier in the states or bring him their next march on Soccer House. I am not sure if he needs to cover soccer more qualitatively as Simmons has reached a status whereby he bestows “coolness” on something just by writing about it.

      And as I may have mentioned to you last week, the biggest disservice to the sport continues to be the Sportscenter anchors who joke about the sport (“soccer” v. “football, adding a fake British accent, laughing when they use soccer terms) every time they present a highlight package on the show.

      Reply

      • Posted by Matthew N on 2009/08/27 at 8:17 AM

        Don’t forget how there is not a single anchor that can manage to pronounce any names right. Sportscenter and all the anchors associated with it just show a massive disrespect to the sport every time they cover it. Oh, they’ll cover the one match that was on ESPN and insert a nice looking goal into the top 10, but they’ll mispronounce every name, they’ll call Aston Villa “Aston Viya (like its fucking Spanish)”, etc. etc.

        Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/27 at 8:19 AM

        It’s hard to make a case for Seattle being Soccertown USA if you haven’t even developed the criteria yet (regardless if the field is turf or not).

        I agree Simmons is a brand and like I said a feature writer–and not being critical–but before he argues points (which he didn’t do too much of) he should do more Azteca pieces.

        You are tee’ing up my piece on ESPN’s ability to make or break soccer on a grander scale in the US.

        I’m upset that Simmons gets to root for Luka Modric. By the end of the year, you’ll be hearing his name alongside foreign (to England) EPL stars like Torres, Cesc, and Arshavin.

        Reply

  2. Posted by sfshwebb on 2009/08/27 at 8:13 AM

    I think Simmons is smart guy. He already gets some of the little nuances about the game such as the passing and intelligent runs that players make. He was on the WSD podcast a couple of times and made some intelligent comments.

    I think one of the biggest reasons he is getting into the sport is the culture and fans of the game. He loves the singing and chanting and good-natured rivalry (Unlike the horribleness of what happened at West Ham on Tuesday). A lot of the games here have turned into fabricated disney “fun” times. The jumbotron tells you to clap so you clap etc… where as soccer games are just 90 minutes of intensity in a lot of the stadiums.

    Lalas i believe is an idiot. He was a good player but it think his ideas and perceptions of the game are moronic especially the size versus skill… try telling that to Messi, Maradona, Pele, Defoe, Owen etc…

    So yeah BIG fan of Simmons

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/27 at 8:16 AM

      Good point about sports culture and Simmons, Shaun.

      Yeah, Lalas made the size over skill comment and then picked Messi as the guy who will “own” the 2010 WC.

      Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/28 at 10:33 AM

      Shaun, Thought you’d like this on Lalas… http://thebiglead.com/?p=19213

      Lalas calls Lando a Top 20 player…IN THE WORLD.

      I was indifferent on Lalas, but now I am trending towards suspect.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/27 at 9:51 AM

    From Simmons Mailbag today (which is usually his best column of the month)

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/090827

    Q: You don’t like soccer. You are just bored because the Sox aren’t that good, and football hasn’t started. Also, you are trying to see if you can be influential enough to make other people like soccer. You can’t. Stop. Write a mailbag.
    — Chris, Wilmington, Del.

    SG: What do you think I’m doing? By the way, “you’re just trying to see if you can be influential enough to make other people like soccer” is my second favorite conspiracy about my summer crush on soccer behind “you’re only writing about soccer because ESPN made you because they invested so much money in the World Cup.” It’s always funny when people think ESPN operates like the Nixon White House. In fact, I e-mailed these theories to John Skipper, the guy in charge of all creative content for ESPN, and here’s how he responded:

    “Do you still work for us?”

    So … um … yeah.

    Reply

  4. Posted by garbogas on 2009/08/27 at 10:06 AM

    I think every effort possible needs to be made to get Simmons to continue/improve his soccer coverage/fandom. Like you said, Bill Simmons is not a reporter. He’s not an analyst. What is he… a fan. What does US soccer need more of… fans. Who has a big influence on where US sports fans direct their sporting attention… I honestly can’t think of anyone with a bigger influence than Simmons.

    This is a huge publicity opportunity for US soccer, and I have no idea whether or not they realize it. I love, repeat LOVE, your idea about getting Simmons to watch a game with Sam’s Army.

    Brothers TSG, can you make that happen? Seriously. Pull every string you can to get Simmons to go to Rio Tinto on Sep. 5 to watch the Salvador game with Sam’s Army. Somebody above already made the point that Simmons interest is largely predicated on the passion/fandom (again, he’s a super fan) of soccer. I believe increasing his exposure to that culture will help cement his interest and coverage.

    What do you say TSG?

    Reply

    • Posted by garbogas on 2009/08/27 at 10:11 AM

      One follow up: September 5th may be a little too pressed from a time period. If that’s the case, there’s plenty of time to pull some strings for the Oct. 14th game against Costa Rica.

      Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/27 at 3:07 PM

      Garbogas, you got my wheels turning…stay tuned.

      Reply

  5. I’m a Simmons fan, except when he goes on and on and on about either the Red Sox, or basketball, and I’m thoroughly happy that he’s taken a liking to soccer.

    That being said, I felt like he just took snippets of conversations I’ve had with friends over the past year and turned it into a podcast. Let’s hope that it piques the interest of the common fan.

    Reply

  6. Posted by kaya on 2009/08/27 at 5:04 PM

    I guess it’s great that a guy like Simmons may potentially interest a wider audience in soccer, but I don’t think I’d want to listen to him and Lalas go on for an hour. Lalas is nuts and Simmons sounds like an amateur from the article I read on his Aug 12 experience in Azteca.
    I never liked baseball, I quickly grew tired of the start/stop of american football, and finally got tired of the predictability of the NBA by the late 90s, so I hardly identify with your typically american sports fan… but tell me why I should care what Simmons thinks beyond my first point?

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/27 at 5:50 PM

      Because he if effectively the lone conduit to an audience of probably 5-10M people in the sweet spot demographic (male 18-34) of potential soccer event going folks who probably have had little exposure to the sport.

      Reply

  7. [...] we wrote a review piece on the Bill Simmons – Alexi Lalas podcast. As the discussion progressed in the comments, I made the following [...]

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