One v One With Aaron West

Up next in our One v One series is Aaron West. Aaron has worked in a variety of roles within the sport, he has a tremendous love for the game and an infectious personality. We caught up with him to hear about his story, the work he is doing at COPA90 and what it was like to hang out and interview Gigi Buffon. 

aaron-west

Tell us about the early years of Aaron West.

I grew up in North Carolina. Born and raised in Chapel Hill. My parents went to UNC. My dad was a track coach. He was actually the first black head track coach in the ACC. I was three years old when my mom's best friend introduced us to soccer and I fell in love immediately. I played soccer from the age of three on. I ran track a little bit, but it was like doing fitness all the time without the joy of playing soccer and scoring goals. 

I played rec until I was 12 years old and then joined a select team. A few coaches from the ACC got together and formed a youth club and I ended up playing there until I went off to Davidson College. I played four years at Davidson. After I graduated, I spent a little bit of time with the Charlotte Eagles until I got hurt. I was hurt pretty much my entire career. I was pretty much built like glass. I tore everything - groin, hamstrings, quads. I broke my back when I was 15. So I was literally injured all the time. 

I started working at soccer.com and around the same time got a contract offer from the Hammerheads. I didn't accept it because it wasn't enough money and at that point I didn't think the tradeoff of calling myself a professional soccer player was enough for the lifestyle I would be living. It was at that point where I decided it was time to embark on my actual career. So I worked at soccer.com for the next two years doing grass roots marketing.  I then bounced around doing some different consulting in the social media realm. I tried to forge my own way down that path.

Right after college I started writing about soccer for fun. I would get bored at work and soccer was always on my brain, so I just started writing and started my own blog. I had a buddy of mine from college who I really looked up to as a writer. He told me that my writing was good and that I should submit it somewhere. So I submitted it to goal.com and from there I got a weekly column with them writing about Americans abroad. It was really interesting writing about that because it was a situation where I didn't get to watch the games of the players I was writing about. I would scour the Internet and find obscure foreign language publications looking for info on guys playing in places like Sweden, Norway - everywhere that Americans were playing abroad. It was my job to write short blurbs about them. I did that weekly while I was still working. I had never thought about writing as a full time career, I just kept writing for the fun of it.

I didn't really know what I wanted to do at that time, but I always had a strong interest in social media and marketing because that's how I've best connected with soccer fans from around the world. 

At this time, I was living in DC social media consulting and my girlfriend had signed with Washington Spirit. That was the first time we got to live in the same place. She played there for one year and then she got a great opportunity with FC Kansas City. She ends up going to Kansas City and I stay in DC.  

After her first season, I got a text from a random person asking me if I would be interested in moving to LA to work with Fox Sports. I kind of thought it was a joke but I told them I was interested. I didn't hear anything for a few weeks and then Mike Foss from Fox reached out to me saying they were putting together a team to try and revitalize Fox. I joined their digital team in May of 2016 and had a great time working at Fox Soccer, writing articles and living in LA. Then it all kind of blew up. Our numbers were great, but a few months before our team was let go, we started hearing rumors that things were changing. Jamie Horowitz came in and he talked about how the content strategy was going to shift. We didn't really know what any of that meant and it kind of seemed like Fox didn't really know what to do with soccer. 

I was on a plane heading to Portland to watch my girlfriend play against Portland and to see some friends that live up there. When I got off the plane I get a text from my editor asking if I had access to the Wordpress admin. I tried logging on and didn't have access. He was like "oh shit, I think we're done." So that was pretty much a signal that the editorial staff was done. About an hour after that, emails started rolling in from editorial staff with notes saying it had been great working together and that they had been let go. I still hadn't personally heard anything at this point. A little later that day I get an email saying I had been removed as a Fox Soccer admin and I knew that was it. I got the HR call and at that point I knew that I had done my best at Fox and that I would bounce back. 

I tweeted about it and then a bunch of people started reaching out and the support was great. Folks from COPA reached out and immediately it seemed like a great fit. I know a lot of people that had worked with them and I had seen a lot of their work with KICK (this was when they were still KICK- before the rebrand). I took the job with them and I don't regret it one bit. It has been the best experience of my life. It's been incredible so far and every week gets better. 

It seems like COPA90 is a great fit for you. What are your roles there and what are you focusing on?

My role at COPA is kinda two-fold. I run our Insta and our Twitter. I also do writing for some of our different series. I also do on camera work as well. We're starting to do more live stuff and I'm doing presenting along side Heath Pearce. I'm working with GO90 and a few other clients. It keeps me doing something different all the time which is exactly what I want to be doing.

How has your transition to being live on air been for you?

Honestly, it's been great. That was something that had been in the plans at Fox but it didn't get to happen. But I feel comfortable on camera. It doesn't feel unnatural for me. I just enjoy talking about the game. I get to sit there with Heath and our guys and just talk about soccer which is the most fun thing in the world for me. 

Anyone that knows you or follows you on social media knows that you are a huge Juventus fan. How did you become a Juve fan?

When I was a kid we didn't have cable. There's a pretty good soccer scene in North Carolina, but I grew up a bit removed from that. I grew up in a part of Tar Heel country that is pretty much all basketball. So I didn't really have anyway to watch soccer or consume soccer on a regular basis. My main outlet for this was watching highlight tapes that my mom's best friend had. Most of these were Ajax highlights. I also used to read any soccer magazine I could get my hands on. I would go to Barnes & Noble and would end up getting a subscription to every soccer magazine that I could. Those magazines were always in my house and I was always reading about soccer. So between reading about it and watching highlight tapes, I ended up falling in love with the Dutch National Team because I had watched so many Ajax highlights. I saw black soccer players and that was the coolest thing in the world to me.

When I was 12 years old, I made a decision that I was going to pick a team and stick with that team for life. I had just watched this highlight tape of Juventus beating Ajax in the 1996 Champions League final. Edgar Davids had just moved to Juve around that time and I loved Davids. I loved the black and white uniform of Juventus. I loved the blue jersey with yellow sleeves that they wore in that Champions League final. I read up about them and I decided that they would be my team for life. 

It's amazing how far things have come here in the US and the unlimited access we now have to the sport. It's such a stark contrast to when we were growing up.

It's wild. At the click of a button a kid can get info on any league in the world, watch highlights from 40 years ago and find out exactly what is going on right now. If I had that kind of access when I was a kid, I would have been in heaven. But I did they best I could and I don't regret any of it.

You have made your dog Ajax into a social media star, did you name him that because of all the Ajax highlights you watched growing up?

I call him "A Jax". I'm also a huge fantasy and mythology nerd. So I named him Ajax after the Greek hero in the Trojan War. But I also reconciled that with the fact that Ajax the club is also named after that hero as well. So I call him "A Jax", but if anyone calls him Ajax (pronounced like the soccer club) I'm not going to correct them because thats dope too!

What do you think is the biggest story in soccer right now?

The biggest story in US soccer right now is the presidential race. Antony DiCicco recently wrote an in-depth article about what it takes to actually get elected as president of US Soccer. It's a pretty convoluted process and I had no idea. I don't feel like a lot of people really know what it takes. I'm pretty steeped in the soccer world and I had no idea what the process is. After missing out on the World Cup for the first time in 30 years we are on the brink of possibly being able to change our entire system and how our game is run and that is a huge story. 

If you could pick one game to see live, what teams would be involved and what stadium would it be played in?

That's a great question. I think I would have to go with El Clasico at Camp Nou. I would love to see Ronaldo and Messi go head to head at the Camp Nou. I think that is maybe the best theatre for football in the world. There are some incredible stadiums around the world, but that stadium for me is special. Seeing El Clasico in Camp Nou is a bucket list item for me. 

What player would you most like to see in MLS?

I would have to say Ronaldo. I think he is the type of guy that would bring crowds anywhere he would play. But I think that no matter how long he plays, he will play at the top of whatever his ability is. You're not going to see him slacking off. You're not going to see him come over here just to cash a check. I think he would bring a level of professionalism and excellence that many would be surprised by. I'm not a huge Ronaldo fan, but I have respected him his entire career. I think he's the consummate professional and I think he would be great in MLS.

Soccer has provided you with al lifetime of memories and experiences. But if you had to pick one that stands out, what would it be?

My most recent one, getting to interview Gigi Buffon. If you would have told me three years ago that at 31 years old, that I would be flown to Italy for work, and get to sit down and interview Buffon, I would have told you that you're crazy and an asshole.

It was honestly the best experience of my life. He wasn't just a nice person for being a professional athlete, especially one at his level. He was just a nice person period. You see him on the field and he's always the nicest guy. He's hugging everyone and he helps people up and gives them a pat on the head. You see those things. But being around him in person, he's such a genial person and he treats everyone with a genuine humility and he seems to like everyone. It was incredible to see that in person. For him to sit there with my shitty Italian and give the answers he gave, it was a marvel to sit beside him and see the person he is.

gigi-buffon-copa90

When did you fall in love with soccer?

The very first time I touched a soccer ball or saw a game being played. I was three years old and it was a wrap.

Next up - The Need for More Pickup Soccer