One of Pico Union’s many murals (intersection of 7th and Westlake) A couple years ago, I helped establish an adult men’s soccer league in a neighborhood just east of downtown Los Angeles. Our league was affiliated with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) and only lasted two years. It has taken me a little time to gain some distance on what was both an incredible and depressing experience.
Soccer (like most sports) is a bit of a red-light district. For all its beauty, it also draws a lot of shady characters – hucksters, geniuses, crazy people. It attracts people looking to run their game and, more often than is reasonable, that game is not football.
Before getting into this story, let me just put this on the record: The American Youth Soccer Organization is a fantastic model for community-run sports. Founded in Los Angeles in 1964, its core principles are egalitarian and anti-corporate. It is close to a 100% volunteer organization. A small staff runs a huge system. According to its website, AYSO has over 600,000 registered players and a quarter of a million volunteers (yes, you read that right).