Krasnodar, Russia, is a long way to go to cover a friendly -- more than 5,000 miles from the United States, in fact.
So, when the U.S. men’s soccer team faced Russia in Krasnodar on Nov. 14, only one member of the U.S. media made the trip.
Noah Davis, deputy editor of the newly launched American Soccer Now website, had the team all to himself.
“The first thing [Team USA goalie] Tim Howard said to me when we had a sitdown was, ‘So you drew the short straw, huh?’” recalls Davis.
Howard wasn’t the only one surprised to see him. Russian reporters covering the friendly, which ended in a 2-2 draw, were downright dumbfounded.
“They couldn’t believe I’d flown all that way,” says Davis, who took a 10-hour flight to Moscow, sat in the airport for a few hours, then flew another six hours due south to Krasnodar.
“No one thinks Americans care about soccer.”
But that’s why Davis made the trip in the first place.
He and his boss, American Soccer Now editor-in-chief John Godfrey, are dead set on proving those people wrong.
Godfrey and his small team of editors and designers introduced the world to AmericanSoccerNow.com on Oct. 4 and, with little promotion or advertising, watched the site steadily gain traffic.
Think of American Soccer Now as a virtual version of one of those bars where ardent soccer fans gather to watch live matches from Europe in the wee hours.
In this case, the focus is strictly on U.S. players. Fans can log on to ASN and use interactive tools to debate, share opinions and learn about players and the game.
Godfrey, who also writes for the New York Times soccer blog when he isn’t working at his day job with a design firm, says there is nothing else like it.
“There are some great straightforward blogs out there,” he says. “There are great massive media sites that are comprehensive. But there wasn’t anything that was American-soccer-centric that used cutting-edge technology, looked beautiful and had high-quality writers.”
At the core of the content-rich site are two features:
• The ASN 100 is a monthly top 100 list of U.S. players ranked by a panel that includes ESPN’s Alexi Lalas. (Michael Bradley of AS Roma is currently No. 1.)
• Starting XI is an interactive feature allowing users to plug in their own starting lineup of U.S. players, post it, comment on it and interact with other lineup creators.
Long before the launch, Godfrey said he had noticed soccer fans were already picking U.S. starting lineups on their own blogs, painstakingly using spaces and dashes to position the names into specific soccer formations.
Starting XI takes that concept and makes it much more user-friendly and visually appealing.
“We had over 1,000 people create lineups for the U.S. national team within our first two and a half weeks of existence,” Godfrey says. “People were all over it. Not only did they create lineups. They commented on others, which created a nice dialogue among our users.”
Godfrey says more innovative content, such as interactive infographics, will go live by mid-January. He is keeping other updates under wraps.
In the meantime, Godfrey and Davis are laying out their travel plans for the next round of World Cup qualifiers, which for the U.S. begin in Honduras on Feb. 6.
This time, they’ll have plenty of company from other U.S. journalists. But don't blame the players if they're partial to the guy who flew 16 hours to watch them play a friendly.
Check out more at the American Soccer Now website.