Friday, December 8, 2023
Interviews

Jeff Agoos on the changing face of Major League Soccer and the role that PRO is playing in its growth

It was during the offseason just over fourteen years ago that Jeff Agoos decided to hang up his boots after a decorated playing career that had taken in spells in the US, Germany and England.

The nine-time MLS All-Star and 2009 National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee, who represented the USMNT at FIFA World Cups in 1998 and 2002, the Olympic Games in 2000 and won the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2002, had his focus on two far more rewarding challenges.

“I was 37, so I was far past my prime and I knew it was time to get out,” the Geneva-born ex-defender explained. “I then took on probably the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life, which was taking care of my two daughters.

“I spent a year out of the game, but I was able to get back in when Bruce Arena gave me the opportunity at New York Red Bulls [as Technical Director], so I was very thankful for that. At that time, most ex-pros were going to either end up in management or on the coaching side one way or the other, and the management side really intrigued me.

“It still interests me; I’m still very curious about it now and keen to learn every day and self-educate. The league was still very new, and there was a small number of teams, so it really appealed to me in terms of how to move an organization forward, and I’m grateful for Bruce offering me that opportunity.”

After four seasons with Red Bulls, the time came to move on to a role with a wider remit and Agoos took up situ at the league office where he has seen his career continue to progress in a third facet of the sport.

First brought in as Technical Director of Competition by Executive Vice President of Competition and Game Operations, Nelson Rodriguez, Agoos is now the Senior Vice President of Competition and the principal point of contact between MLS and PRO.

“I’m lucky for a lot of the opportunities that have come my way. When you’re at a club, you have to figure out a way to win on a weekly basis, but when you are with the league, you are essentially figuring that out for the whole group. The big difference between being a player or a coach and working with a league is that it takes so much longer for things to effectuate.

“In 90 minutes as a player, you can impact a game, and you’re lucky to do that in nine months as an administrator in a league. It’s a different challenge, but one that I enjoy.”

MLS’ Competition Department has an expansive role that covers a variety of areas including medical administration, as well as everything related to the competition, from scheduling through to officiating.

The latter is a key area that has required a significant amount of understanding and consideration in order to maintain a regular and healthy dialogue with the clubs, particularly with the advancement of technology’s role in the game.

“I’ve learned so much about refereeing and what goes into it. I don’t think a lot of people understand the amount of work officials do away from the field.

“We must never forget there is such a human element in there which is a lot like players in the sense of preparation for matches – the sacrifices they make, the sacrifices their families makes, the feelings from a good game versus a difficult game or getting a big call right.

“The more people we can educate, the more people we can continue to progress on the field; the better this is for everybody.

“Our job on both the PRO side and the league side is to make sure that our key stakeholders – our Chief Soccer Officers, our GMs, our coaches, our owners – are all aware of the amount of work that goes into this area.

“PRO should be commended on having such a positive impact; you see around the world now that the perception of our officials is in a completely different place, and that means that MLS is seen as a completely different type of league.

“We sit on several panels and forums with FIFA and The IFAB; so, we now have a footprint in the world’s game, and I believe a lot of that has come from the progress we’ve made on the officiating side.”

The 2001 MLS Defender of the Year’s last game was an Eastern Conference Semifinal defeat on October 29, 2005, and at this stage, MLS was 10 seasons old. At the point of retirement, the 134-cap US international had featured in every postseason bar one and claimed five MLS Cup championships – “Lost one to Chicago, should have had that one” – and the competition was 12 teams strong at that stage. Fast forward 15 years and it’s a very different animal now.

“At the very start of MLS, there were questions about how sustainable it was and even whether the league was going to be around at all. We are in a place now where those questions are entirely different 25 years on. It is now about how big will the league be? What kind of spend will we have?

“It’s a reflection point; while we are looking forward at what’s going to happen in the next 25 years, we are also looking backwards at what we’ve done. It’s nice that we get to recognize where we’ve come from, what we’ve achieved, some of the things we’ve been able to accomplish, both good and bad.

“On the heels of the NFL turning 100, we are only turning 25. The best days are still ahead of us. I’m very thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had and the role I’ve been able to play in the growth of the league.

“We’ve announced our 30th team in Charlotte, and we are seeing values continue to increase. This brings more scrutiny, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: it highlights the success we are having. We are seeing an increase in the onfield quality [of play], and the continued improvement in officiating with PRO, which are both important for the relevance of our teams in the marketplace. There are a lot of really positive signs and I’m excited to see how big we can become.”

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