Our Game. Our Stories.
The essence of soccer is captured in the fact that it connects a wide variety of people in a dynamic way. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are profiling 20 individuals who have made a significant impact on the game of soccer or who have been impacted by soccer in a positive way. Here, we will show you the diversity of the beautiful game and how it connects everyone as one universal team...Together, We Are Soccer.
This is our game and these are our stories. Be sure to visit our site every week to see who we feature next!
Cobi Jones is one of the most iconic American soccer players of all time. Considered the “original Cobi” in LA, today Jones serves as an ambassador to the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer, after being a 12-year starter for the club (1996-2007). He is also a respected sports broadcaster sitting in the analyst seat, covering the Galaxy. Jones can also be seen on Fox Sports, Pac-12 Network, BeIn Sports, and he was part of the 2012 NBC Olympic soccer coverage. With a professional playing career that spanned nearly two decades, Jones played for the English Premier League club Coventry City, the Brazilian club Vasco de Gama, and returned state side to play for his hometown LA Galaxy with the inception of MLS in 1996. Jones is the all-time leader in caps for the U.S. National team, a three-time World Cup player, former Olympian and a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Following retirement, he served as an assistant coach with the Galaxy. Jones is noted as being one of a significant group of American National Team stars who returned from overseas to aid the then-new Major League Soccer.
How old were you when you started playing soccer? Do you have a favorite childhood memory of the game?
I was 5 years old when I started playing soccer, in AYSO. I was riding in the backseat of my parents’ station wagon when I saw my cousin playing soccer in the park with some friends. As most kids do, I started screaming to my parents to pull over and let me out. They ended up just walking up to the coach on the field and asking him if I could join the team and play with my cousin. The coach just said “sure,” and tossed me a jersey. That’s probably not quite how kids get started today, but things were a bit different back then. I have a lot of great memories from youth soccer, but I was a forward, so anytime I was scoring goals was a good time! One time, a few years after I started playing, I was playing defense and was trying to chase down a ball from about 20 yards away; I was a bit quicker than the other players and as I was running I could hear the other team screaming, “Hurry up! Hurry up! He’s coming!” I remember the coach saying to his players on the sideline, “Look at that, he’s not even close to the ball and they’re already panicked!” That’s definitely a fun moment that stands out for me.
Which players or teams did you idolize as a kid?
I was a typical American kid – I didn’t watch a whole lot of soccer growing up, but I did know of a few of the big name players, like Pele. He came out a few times and did some appearances here in Southern California, so he was one of the first big players that I met. As I got a bit older, I really admired Maradona. There was just something special about the way he played. He had such great determination. Even with everyone against him on the field, he kept fighting and kept succeeding.
You’ve had the opportunity to live and play in a lot of different countries. How does the soccer culture differ around the world?
I would say that the U.S. is the best of all the worlds. It incorporates everything that I’ve seen and experienced playing in South America and in Europe. In England, there’s a very sportsman-like mentality. As a player, it’s all about getting the job done; day-in-day-out, performing at your best. You see this mentality in the way the guys play and in the coaching philosophies - especially from some of the old-time coaches. In England, it’s all about working hard for the team. When I was down in Brazil, it was more of a laissez-faire or carefree type of attitude. Training didn’t always start on time and everyone kind of did their own thing and took their time. There, people seem to have more of a joy for things. My first few days at Vasco da Gama, I remember walking into the locker room and the guys had the samba playing and they were all over the locker room dancing and laughing and playing. They really embrace the game as the “beautiful game,” as Pele would say. That’s just the style of life down there.
You helped lead the Grey Team to victory in last year’s Capital Soccer Classic. What was it like to play alongside Members of Congress?
The Classic was a very special and meaningful event for me and I think it was really import for both sides – the Members of Congress and the former National Team members – to get out there and kick the ball around. From the players’ perspective, it was cool to see that there are Members of Congress who are not only fans of the game, but are passionate about the game and really understand the game and the impact it can make. Hopefully, there will be a continued relationship or partnership with Congress so that we can build and grow the game together. Anytime we can get Congress involved to help spread the word about soccer is a step in the right direction. Working together, we can get our sport all of the help that it needs to take it to the next level.
You’ve been very involved with the Foundation over the years and last year participated in our Urban Soccer Symposium. What inspired you to get involved in the soccer-for-social change movement?
I’ve always believed in the soccer-for-social change movement and the urban soccer movement - long before they were ever called those things. Soccer has a lot of power. Everyone’s heard the stories of how the game has stopped wars, brought people of different backgrounds together, etc. But what people should realize is that soccer is a very universal and social game. If we can get that across to young people – show the social aspect of the game – that’s the most important part. It’s one of our only truly international sports and with soccer, everybody can play, everybody can participate. I’ve found that if you can just spend some time getting to know one another over a game of soccer, it’s hard to have biases or prejudices because you know and understand what they’re all about.