This week on the #AskASoccerPro Show we welcomed Eli Lesser of 'This Week in MLS' to join in! I’m very pleased to share our interview with you.
If you missed the live, check out what we covered:
00:00 - 05:56: Intro
06:09 – 10:00: When You Go Pro…In Anything
10:01 – 16:27: Learning to Fish
17:38 – 20:36: Eli Lesser Joins the Live!
20:45 – 24:14: A Unique Path
24:16 – 25:19: Not Loving Every Moment
25:30 – 29:43: Toxicity and Staying Positive
29:49 – 34:56: Growth of the League
35:10 – 39:04: Striking a Balance
39:09 – 42:31: The Lowest Point
42:44 – 48:23: What Was Missing
48:24 – 52:30: Long Term Winner’s Mindset
52:31 - 57:42: Outro
If you'd like to listen to the interview:
If you’d like to watch the interview:
If you’d like to read the interview:
* This interview has been edited for clarity.
Quincy Amarikwa: What's happening? What do you got there bro? Let me see!
Eli Lesser: Just arrived today! [Shows off his hoodie] 'This Week in MLS' merch, it is coming out February 29th, which is when the MLS season kicks off so I thought that'd be a perfect day to drop it all. We have three seasons of merch planned. A close friend of mine here at Syracuse and I have been working very, very hard on this and we hope you guys enjoy it.
QA: Hey man, I'm happy to have you on the show!
Eli: I'm excited too I'm excited for us to connect I know man I'm trying to think of the last time we had spoken, it was a couple months ago you caught me right before I had a pretty important Spanish exam and I actually aced that even though I came in a little bit late because we had such a great conversation.
I was definitely not at my best point right then when you called man and that definitely changed my mentality going forward. I haven't been in like that negative space ever since.
QA: Let's table that because that's a great cliffhanger for everybody so they can understand more about that before we kind of jump into where you were mentally and how you got there because I'd like for you to just to share that. I definitely think the parallels of what you were experiencing are very similar to the experiences of a lot of pro players when they're coming to the realization that being a professional isn't what they believed it to be and what they thought they signed up for. So, I think it's very similar to your experience.
Give us a little bit of a quick rundown of who Eli is, what is ‘This Week in MLS,’ how did it get started?
EL: I am Eli Lesser, I don't quite know what that means yet but I'm figuring that out. I've always had the dream that I want to be a broadcaster. I wanted to be a professional broadcaster and I
wanted to do it in a fashion or do it in a way that isn't the basic way of getting there. I didn't want to do everything the way that it's laid out for me, because I want to create my own way and kind of create my own unique experience, just because media is changing. Media isn't the same anymore, it's not all about getting the cable television job like it was 20 years ago. I'm trying to find what that unique path can be for myself.
In 2015 I had a love for MLS like I loved MLS for a long time, but then it became about taking the next step and it became my life. I decided to make this account and a lot of what I was seeing was that no one was covering MLS at that point in the way I wanted MLS to be covered. First, because I'm a fan of other sports, I'm a fan of basketball, I was a big fan of baseball then, and I liked the media that I saw from those sports; what's posted on Instagram how that looks. I wanted to do that for MLS because I felt like MLS needed that attention.
So, I hopped on that train. Then a friend of mine, MLS 2.0, also had an amazing account he found a way to really capture the fan base, which was something I was lacking at that point. I really liked the way he was doing things and one day he decided he was in college and it just wasn't for him anymore. So, he gave me his account to let me not just continue what he did but also to push out the content I wanted to push out to a much bigger audience. At that point, it was 6,000 followers, and now okay we're at 42,000 followers, which is just a crazy growth.
I've loved every moment of it… actually, no, I have not loved every moment of it. That would be one of the biggest lies I could ever tell you guys. Come on, there are always ups and downs in this type of thing, but I've always just decided to stick with it, whether I was having a good run or a bad run. I've had both on this account. I knew I just wanted to stick with it because every time I wasn't posting I was a lot sadder than when I actually was doing content, even if I wasn't making the content, I wanted to make 100% of the time. I'm now trying to reverse. I'm trying to only put up content I want to put out. Actually, a lot of you guys seem to be liking it. The engagement numbers are at an all-time high, which is awesome.
I'm posting the type of stuff I believe needs to be out there for the MLS fan base on Instagram, because I see what's on Twitter, I see what's on Reddit, and I don't really like the style on either of those platforms.
QA: What don't you like about how MLS creates its content and engages with its community?
EL: I do think specifically on Reddit, I think there's a lot of toxicity in the way people treat different fan bases. I know its banter and I know that's what Reddit does, but personally, I think in MLS and generally, we gotta all work together here to get the sport more exposure. Most of the exposure we're seeing is negative. If if you're not one of the bigger stars in the league you're just seeing negative stuff about the players, the videos that get the most hits on YouTube are usually the blooper ones of MLS, and because it's MLS that makes it even funnier. I've never really liked that. So, the difference between what I see on Reddit and Official MLS Memes is that Official MLS Memes is always promoting the sport, trying to make our sport and our league look better. I think especially on Facebook it's very negative. I think everyone's got to be positive when it comes to this league or else I don't know where we could go from here. I don't know how we could get more outside fans who aren't necessarily MLS fans hooked into the league because there's still the stigma that we’re kind of a joke.
QA: Do you think that negativity, when you're saying be more positive, are you saying it showcases things unfairly? Or, do you feel that negativity is an unfair representation of the quality of the league?
EL: It's an unfair representation of the quality of the league because you mostly see the ugly and when you see the good, you only see the select good of certain players. You only see highlights of certain guys that have maybe more marketability, and I think there's a lot more to this league than that. I think a lot of those starters who do get the highlights give us a bad rep of what the league as a whole is. You played with a guy like Wayne Rooney, he had some great highlights with D.C. United. But when those are the only highlights being shown in Europe it creates that stigma that, ‘oh we're still a retirement League because Wayne Rooney is getting some highlight plays for D.C. United.’
That's just one thing that's bothered me about MLS media because I don't think it's all about that. Zlatan was great and it was great to see him in MLS. It was great to see you totally clown him and totally demolish him. With players like that in the league succeeding and then those being the only highlights shown in the mainstream media, it does not give us a good look.
QA: Why do you believe MLS is incapable of understanding that?
EL: Because it's about the money. They're gonna be focused on what could make them more money and that does come at a cost sometimes. It comes at a cost of really exposing the world to what Major League Soccer is and what it stands for. Because I feel like people around the world don't actually realize how important the community is in Major League Soccer. The three C's that they have, I believe it's club, culture, community. I think that's it and that means so much to the League. I think it's what makes Major League Soccer so interesting and so special and that's what I want people to see when they're looking to come into the League. It’s less about certain players in the league, and more about what the league is about, and what they're trying to build because this is the right time to hop on the MLS bandwagon. Because I know MLS in 10 to 15 years is gonna be huge and I'm trying to put myself in the best spot right now to be right there when the league gets huge for me to blow up with it.
QA: Here’s a question I've got for you, what do you see? Do you think that that's guaranteed to happen, or, do you see that there's a chance that it might not happen?
EL: I think it will happen. It might not happen in 10 to 15 years like everyone's been saying. The goal personally is to win the 2026 World Cup. Obviously, that might not happen, it's very unlikely, but I'm still thinking we could do it. We have this young group in town, we just have to figure the USSF stuff out. We are kind of corrupt and we need to figure out how to fix that. I'm not quite the person who is going to come in and fix that. I can complain all I want but I have faith that the US Men's National Team could have a great run in 2026 on our home turf and I want to be there covering it, that's my goal.
QA: Why can't you fix it?
EL: Why can't I fix it? I need to figure out the solution. I need to find out the real problem that is buried underneath everything. I need to maybe talk to more people who are up there in that realm, maybe interview more people in this type of fashion to where I could learn more about what they believe is going well for the US Soccer Federation what they believe is going wrong. From there I'll be able to maybe come up with the solution and I could publicize it. I'm just not at that point yet.
QA: I guess something that I see as being a potential issue and problem is the idea that, okay the league is just about money and just selling those aging stars because that's how they got their initial attention with Beckham. Then they saw, ‘hey that works so well, let's just keep it going.’ So it's more of a short-term mindset, not thinking about long-term consequences. And there are not consequences if, ‘hey everyone just sees us as the retirement League.’ Less and less people are going to want to come here or invest here in the long term.
You know so from the domestic perspective, I've noticed especially this offseason there's been a lot of news, but a lot of the news is surrounding international players flooding the US market. I'm not seeing too much in terms of domestic guys, or guys who have, you know six, seven, eight-plus years in the League, being valued and picked up. Do you feel that's the right move right now from all these teams and organizations?
EL: How does it make the league better what you get a player? When you get a player, yes, you're gonna make money off the player, but when you keep just shuffling guys every couple of years, that's great for the young players and it's great for them to leave to make money, but how does that actually make the players and the people down below in the systems better? I don't think a lot of those old players kind of bring down the edge in the competition. I think that these big names that you kind of leave aren't as hungry and they're not as driven to compete and to win it and to win big. I know some of the older players have done it, but I do think that there should be more of an importance on the domestic players. That's how the league was built in the past and I'm not saying like I'm some American purist or whatever but how is the league supposed to grow if we're seeing less and less domestic players in
the starting eleven? You tune back to 2012 games had like ten Americans in their lineup now in 2019 it'd be shocking to see more than like four Americans in a starting eleven. If we're not producing quality kids to get to that point to actually start in the league, where's our league at the ground? Where's our league actually heading? I think the domestic and international levels and MLS do go hand in hand. I think the US Men's National Team and MLS should be as connected as they seem to be because I do think for one to succeed the other has to as well. I think MLS, in general, can't succeed without the US Men's National Team succeeding and I don't think the US National Team can succeed if the MLS isn't succeeding in its goal to create the next generations of American talent.
QA: Let’s pivot here. We're talking about the soccer side of stuff, but a lot of the things that I want to make sure that we highlight and discuss here are more just mentality, right? Mindset. So, I want to talk more to your mindset and the mentality you believe was necessary for you to get to where you are and what you feel you need to get to where you want to go. Cause as you've kind of said, this is just, this is towards a bigger picture, a towards a bigger goal. Right? So, what, what do you feel was the mentality that you had that allowed you to get to where you are?
EL: Never, never, never settle. Whenever I feel comfortable with my account, I know I'm doing something wrong. I feel the need to always find ways to make everything I do better. Whether it's stepping up my graphics, step out the amount of posting, maybe lower the amount of posting, changing how much I post, what I exactly post about. You've seen my account change a number of times and what exactly I'm posting. And part of that has to do with what I believe needs to be put out at that given time or part of it is what I feel like I need to be doing. What can I bring to the table that no one else is doing? That's why I've shifted over. A lot of people are loving the top ten, a lot of people are hating the top ten, either way, I'm creating conversations.
That's all that matters to me. And whether you're liking the posts or you're disliking them, you're driving my numbers and I am at the highest I've ever been right now. Which is crazy because I don't feel like I'm putting in more effort than I ever had in the past. Honestly, at some points, I feel like I'm putting in less effort and that has actually helped me find a balance in my life. So, I'm not just focused on this account or I'm not just focused on school. I'm very proud of the social life that I have created here. I feel like I've built a strong network of peers here and I think that's one of the most important things coming into college is you're meeting a lot of people who are going to be good at what they do.
And I got to get that help from them because in the end, we're all in this together. Everyone here in this world, we're all in this together and we got to feed off each other to help each other create what we want to do and to help reach each other's schools. And that's part of what I've done with this merch. This merch was designed by one of my friends here at Syracuse who's been looking for some work to do in design. And it just clicked immediately. And we've created a product that we're really, really happy about. And I think that's what matters in the end. We're doing stuff together that's making us happy and we're not just doing things just to do them. We're doing them because we have a goal and we're actually accomplishing that goal. And I think that's awesome. And that's why I've really enjoyed college so far. And that's just kind of been my mentality and thing is to make sure people know what you're for.
Hopefully, they like it and if they like it and they bring something to you that you could work with, you bring your passions together and create something beautiful. That's what I've done also with LA FC highlights who could be on this live. He and I have been working together to make my graphics better on my page and he's looking to become a better graphic designer. I'm looking for better graphics for my page and he and I have been collabing and it's been so great. So, I've really stressed using the personal network that I've created for myself to help me with accomplishing my goals because I realize you can't do everything by yourself. You need a good supporting cast that could help lift you. And in exchange, I help lift them up in what they want to do as well.
QA: Nice. So, okay, so it sounds like you from where you are now, and I want to back up to where you were the last time we were having a conversation, it seems like you've come to a lot of better understanding and confidence into what it is you want to do and why and, and how you plan to go about doing it. But let's back up and maybe set a little bit of context too. Like you had said there are ups and downs, right? So, let's move back a couple of months ago where you'd say that was probably, what would you say that's the lowest point that you've ever been or?
EL: Oh, the worst, the lowest was in 11th grade. This was, so at this point, I'll be honest, a relationship ended, a long one. My baseball career ended because I got in a fight with my coach, and ended there. And also, the U S men's national team did not qualify for the World Cup and I almost quit Instagram. I took a month off. It was just everything hit me all at once. I was like, screw this. At that point every weekend, I just spent it in my room, in my house doing nothing. That was probably my lowest point. But here I felt like I had a quick little reality check. I was very negative about myself. Which was not a good thing to do or to be. And the thing is with that is I isolated myself.
One problem I've noticed with myself is when I feel like I have a problem, I don't go ask for help. I isolate myself to kinda like wait for the problem and go away. But you realize that the problem doesn't go away because you're not doing anything about it except for sulking. And a term we like to use here is sipping. So, you caught me at a point where I honestly needed that phone call to where my brain just flips switches at that point. With our conversation and the mentality you told me to take, I start commenting a lot of this does the MSL gesture] on my Instagram photos. Whenever someone is gonna smash talk me just like a little of this [does the MSL gesture], on my page. I used to take every comment very seriously on my page and that is a bad mistake.
You should not take comments seriously. You gotta realize everyone is biased. Even I'm biased, I can't lie. Even I'm biased to certain players, certain teams. One of the most notable ones that people tend to see is people say, I like Bill Hamid a bit too much. I will say he was my first ever player follower and since then I've become like a Bill Hamid stan. Like I've always been a fan of his. So, like when I put him as my best goalkeeper league, everyone was like, Whoa, what do you mean? But like, really it wasn't a big surprise in my opinion. But everyone's got biased. That's what I'm trying to say here. And you, you can't let that annoy you. You can't let it pinch your skin and just know that you're pumping out this content and you were meant to do this, and you are doing exactly what you want to be doing. So, there shouldn't be anymore from that.
QA: Okay, so again, this is good because you're showcasing where you are now, right? Yeah. Okay. But I'm trying to find where I was going. I'm trying to live with that. So, okay. What was it that you were missing then that you couldn't see? What was it that you were allowed to take hold of your focus that you now don't allow?
EL: I mean, anything negative that was ever said totally outweighed anything positive that was ever said to me or about me. Whether it was on Reddit, whether it was on Twitter, whether it's in DMS, whether it's in my comment section. I took everything way too seriously, every negative thing, and I threw away all the positives and I didn't accept them. Because I kept feeling like I just wasn't being good enough and I wasn't good enough to really do exactly what I want to do when in reality I've been more than good enough to do anything I want to do. Just because that's just the mindset you gotta be in to accomplish anything. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to succeed if I think all these negative things about myself? When they really don't matter in the end, they don't change who I am, and I needed to stop thinking that they could change who I am and stop changing who I was.
QA: What about that MSL conversation do you feel made that switch flip?
EL: I'm trying to talk about there was something you said and you're asking me a question about like kind of what my goal was at that time and then, there was one point in that conversation where you're like, so why does that matter? And I'm trying to think of what that was, but I realized it didn't matter. And that's when the mentality switched.
QA: Got you. And this is important. And I think the reason why I was wanting to ask, at least in general terms, right, is you don't have to necessarily know specifically what at that moment, you know, it clicks, right? But it's more just a sequence of questions you need to ask yourself to know. So, what do you feel made it necessary? That I asked you that question for you to see and do you believe you have the ability to ask your question? Ask that question of yourself?
EL: Well, I think I realized at that point that I wasn't being the person I wanted to be at that time, and I felt like I was wasting opportunities. I'm here in college on Instagram in the real world with family and stuff. I felt like I was just like missing out on the opportunities that I felt were most important to me. And I for some reason was going away from those types of things and I felt like I just needed to do this, this and this. And those things just weren't important at all. The content I was putting out wasn't making me happy because of it. And all of these negative thoughts just started coming. And I don't know as I got into a lot of beefs because I was hot-tempered at that point and that's why my Instagram account kept getting blocked or reported for a long time.
As we've seen, I haven't been reported enough in a few months, so knock on wood, hope that doesn't happen. But, the thing is with me is I'm very passionate about what I do and sometimes I take it too seriously and if I feel like it’s being threatened or taken away, or it could be taken away from me or something, I'm going to talk about it and I'm going to reach out to the people. I'm going to get to the bottom of something to make sure that nothing is wrong because nothing is wrong. I think people were trying to create these assumptions about me. A lot of people thought I was a groupie, just an interesting MLS groupie, not a journalist. And that was really fun. That was a fun time. I think one thing I didn't quite realize is like that the fact that they're people that are like disliking me, like the actively going out there like that, that means I'm in their heads.
And that's what you sparked in me. I didn't think of that, I didn't think that I was in their heads. But the true thing is I control their thoughts. I control their thoughts about Major League Soccer. I control everything that they're thinking about me. There was a reason why they are thinking that way about me and it's because they know I have them beat. A lot of the people that have been reporting me are the people who are falling behind me in this race, these are people who are on Reddit and Twitter who are not big fans of me. Because, and I realized this then because they're jealous of the success and what I'm doing, they're jealous of what I built for myself and what I continue to build. The thing is, that I never stop. I'm never going to stop trying to build. I'm never gonna settle at where I'm at. I'm going to continue to find ways to get better and something that you woke up inside me because I was, straight up ready to settle at where I was cause I thought just like I was, I thought I peaked for a while. I thought I had peaked and I realized that I'm just at the bottom still. I haven't even gotten to like the midway point of where I see my success taking me.
QA: That's a long-term winner's mindset right there. That's a long-term winner's mindset. That is some true MSL facts being spit. If you guys aren't listening, you've got to start listening, but you almost don't have a choice because this is where the real information is coming out, you know? And okay. So, once you kind of realized that and maybe started looking at the fact that MLS is taking all of your ideas and applying them on their accounts and stuff, what I'm saying like it's almost, it almost lets you know, ‘I am good. I am really good. I'm good at what I do.’ And you know, how long do you think it is until they realize it's better to just join the team and to work with us instead of trying to work against us?
EL: Yeah. Well, I'm hoping that that time comes when I finished college and I'm ready for a job. That's really like the best time it can happen. But who knows, they could already have plotted to hire me. They could have plots to assassinate me. I don't know, but it doesn't matter. But my goal with this account is to put myself in the best position to get the dream job or just the job created for me in what I want to do in life. Honestly, it, it'd be great to like to join a job that's already there, but I think it'd be even cooler if what I do here becomes a full-time job that MLS gets behind. I'd like to work with the actual leak and meet people who are working within the league on just because I don't see myself always being a journalist.
Eventually, I want to get myself in bed in like embedded within the league system. And maybe get on the business side of things. But I think this is the path I want to take to get there. Just because I love talking about MLS. I love being on camera, I love talking to players and I love reporting. That's my favorite thing. So I just want to be able to put myself in the best position to live that kind of life because I really want to live a life where I'm doing what I love 100% of the time and this is how I'm going to set myself up for that.
QA: Awesome. No, I love that. I love that. I think we've talked about it in the past as well too. We need to get you and the network having a column on the website. That way we can help continually facilitate people reengaging with the content. Cause, like you, said, your platform of choice is Instagram, but I know a lot of people would like to get access in other outlets and stuff. So, I think, you know, on our side we've been really working on building out the content production side and I'm hoping in these next couple of weeks we can connect here, and we'll figure it out. You know, even if we got to do some ongoing type of podcast or something man. Something cause, I think what you've been working on is really awesome man. I think I think the thing that has impressed me most was your willingness to acknowledge that what you were doing was not probably the best way to go about accomplishing your goals in the long run. And the faster, and this is where we're seeing very, it's very parallel to that of a professional athlete, professional soccer player, right? As your ability to recognize when you're wrong is a very valuable skill. And the quicker you can recognize that the faster you could actually put forth the plan to get to where you want to go. And if you don't, then you're gonna end up being that guy who's talking about, you know, if it wasn't for this person and that person and this thing and that thing and…
EL: Exactly. And I'm not going to let it get to that point.
QA: I love that. So, okay, so we've got the last couple minutes here before Instagram kicks us off. I've got a couple of things for you. I wanted to make sure that we're at least having an episode here where we're kind of really breaking down your mentality, the mindset, and really having like a flag in the ground. So, when we look back a year from now, you can say, Hey, where's the mindset now? Where did the journey take us? Where are we at? What have we learned and how are we building together? And some something that you said that I think is really awesome and it stands out and very much aligns with the perfect soccer core values here of you and the team you build is all you need to get to where you'd be. You want to be in life and soccer. Right? And I think, I think just what you were sharing in terms of you can't do everything yourself, right? Your network is your net worth and what can you provide? Not necessarily what can you take, you know? And I think having that mentality, that mindset and providing value and contributing to the community, I think will only breed success over the long run. So, you know, I'm always, I'm always loving the message, man. I'm really proud of the work I'm watching you do. And the growth that you're having and I'm just wishing nothing but success for you here moving forward.
EL: It really comes with help from guys like you as well. I consider you part of the network I've created, and you been part of what has helped me launch myself forward and get myself to where I want to be. And you continue to do that, and I could already, we already know it's going to continue to happen. So, I'm very excited about like where everything could take me to the future and what I could eventually provide and bring to the table that people around the US, or around the world who want to fall in love Major League Soccer, fall in love with.
QA: Awesome. Well, hey, thank you again for joining in. We're definitely going to have to have you on the show again in the future. If not, just have our own show on the side where we can talk MLS specific stuff. I think that'd be a good one. Eli Lesser AKA This Week in MLS, thank you very much for joining in!