RG Exclusive: Interview with John Harkes

Reviving American Soccer: An Interview with John Harkes

John Harkes Image

The journey of American soccer has been one of resilience, growth, and progress. John Harkes, a pivotal figure in U.S. soccer, offers a compelling narrative of this journey, reflecting on the past, present, and future of the sport. In an exclusive interview with RG.org, Harkes shares insights into the crucial moments that have shaped the game in America, from its resurgence in the 1990s to its aspirations for global prominence.

A Pivotal Moment for U.S. Soccer

Reflecting on the significance of the early 90s, Harkes notes, "We were still trying to establish ourselves. From 1990, it was the first time we qualified for the World Cup in 40 years." This achievement marked a turning point for U.S. soccer, rekindling interest in the sport across the nation.

"The days of the NESL, North American Soccer League, where I was growing up in New Jersey, I was 18 minutes away from Giant Stadium where the Cosmos played. I grew up knowing the passion of the game."

The path to the World Cup was not without its challenges. Harkes recalls how "we qualified in Trinidad and Tobago on the last day of qualification," highlighting the determination and grit that characterized the team's journey. The subsequent success in the 1994 World Cup hosted on home soil further bolstered soccer's standing in the U.S., providing a foundation for its continued growth.

Building on Success

Messi playing in the MLS

The early success of the U.S. national team and the subsequent hosting of the World Cup laid the groundwork for Major League Soccer (MLS). Harkes reflects on this era: "The positivity that was here in this country after qualifying for '90 was critical for this game to really move forward." The emergence of MLS and its continued expansion is a testament to the passion and dedication that have driven U.S. soccer's growth.

"The opportunities are there to grow this game. Connecting the game to the community is the biggest, number one thing that we do with smaller clubs."

This connection has fostered a thriving soccer culture in the U.S., supported by a growing fan base and dedicated players.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

Looking to the future, Harkes acknowledges the potential for soccer to continue flourishing in the U.S., particularly with the country set to co-host the 2026 World Cup. He states, "The opportunities are there to grow this game," while recognizing the need to address potential obstacles such as apathy.

"Sustainability is important to make sure you have a league that stays around and doesn't fold like the NASL did."

Harkes stresses the importance of strategic planning and sustainability for MLS to continue its growth trajectory. "Being able to reassess that business plan and strategic planning going forward is really important to make sure you have sustainability," he asserts. This strategic focus, coupled with the continued development of American talent, will be crucial for the league's long-term success.

Sheffield Wednesday and Its Resurgence

Sheffield Wednesday

The conversation shifts to Sheffield Wednesday, where Harkes spoke to the club's recent performance. "Danny Röhl has come from Germany. He was assistant manager of the German national team. When he came in, Wednesday was at the bottom of the League." He emphasizes the importance of resilience, noting, "I would say to the players now that when you're a professional, you have to have this resilience to continue to believe in yourself. And sometimes it's suffering."

"The club has suffered. I think they can sustain staying in the championship, continue to have the investment, but have a different strategic plan moving forward."

Harkes highlights the historical significance of Sheffield Wednesday and the importance of fostering stronger relationships with the community and partnerships from a financial standpoint. "The owner says, 'I don't just want to run this club just to run it. I want to make it better again.' Let's bring it back up to where it was years ago." Harkes expresses his willingness to contribute to the club's success, saying, “I would love to go over there and coach.”

A Legacy of Passion and Resilience

John Harkes' journey from ball boy for the Cosmos to captain of the U.S. national team exemplifies the passion and determination that have driven American soccer. His story, along with those of many others, underscores the resilience and potential of the sport in the U.S.

"As a coach now, I recognize what it's like to build clubs and give back to the community."

Harkes' experience both as a player and coach has shaped his understanding of how to nurture and sustain the sport. His narrative reminds us of the importance of respecting the past, nurturing the present, and looking forward to a bright future for American soccer. With Harkes and others like him at the helm, soccer continues to grow and inspire in the U.S., paving the way for future generations of players and fans.

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Meet Our Authors

Mike made the decision to dive headfirst into the booming world of sports betting fresh out of college. Back in the day, when 1-800 pick lines and sports pagers were all the rage, he couldn't resist the allure, having grown up idolizing sports legends like Sweetness, MJ, and Slammin Sammy. Mike dedicated his early years to the industry, tirelessly analyzing games, writing articles with free picks, and selling his expertise on reputable handicapping sites. Unlike many others, Mike was known for his integrity and only released one Game of the Year per sport, per season. His hard work and unwavering commitment paid off, earning him a devoted following and propelling his career to new heights. Then came the explosion of Daily Fantasy Sports. Believe it or not, companies like DraftKings and FanDuel used to pay Mike's company to increase their brand exposure. Now, those same industry giants don't even bother responding to his emails. While Mike appreciates the convenience of being able to place legal bets in his own backyard, he can't help but feel disheartened by what has become of the industry. People are being led astray, falsely believing that a mere $5 wager on a 20-team same-game-parlay will be their ticket to financial security. If there’s one thing Mike learned from making book back in the day, it’s that parlays are a bookie’s best friend. A bankroll is the only leg you have to stand on in the battle with the books, and Mike’s here to offer up advice on how to protect it.

Cristina Varela Galan
Cristina Varela Galan
Problem Gambling Expert

Cristina used to work as a Psychology Assistant in the Bizkaia Pathological and Risky Gamblers Association. She was also part of a research team in Deusto University, specializing in pathological gambling area. While working there, she managed to develop her own project 

 “Exploring the association between emotional regulation, alexithymia, stressful life events and gambling in adolescent and young adult women”.

Paruyr Shahbazyan began his business career in 2000 as a private entrepreneur. Over thirteen years, he developed a deep understanding for business and leadership, laying a solid foundation for his professional journey.

In 2013, Paruyr stepped into the sports and betting industry as the founder and president of Bookmaker Rating. This online mass media platform, which he led until 2020, focused on providing in-depth analysis and insights in sports betting, earning a reputation for its quality content. 

Continuing his innovative approach in 2022, Paruyr co-founded Azuro, a decentralized betting protocol. This venture showcases his dedication to integrating advanced technology in the evolving landscape of sports betting. Through these diverse experiences, Paruyr has continuously influenced and shaped the betting industry, driving new trends and setting high standards.

Engaged in private entrepreneurship2000-2013
Founder and President at Bookmaker Rating, an online platform focused on sports and betting2013-2020
Co-founder at Azuro, a decentralized betting protocol2022

"Innovation in sportsbetting comes from a deep understanding of both technology and the human element of sports." 

- Paruyr Shahbazyan, Founder, RG


Principles and Ethics

Paruyr Shahbazyan's core beliefs lie in the power of informed decision-making and integrity in the betting industry. He understands that the foundation of successful betting is not just about odds and predictions, but also about the trust and reliability of the information provided. Paruyr advocates for a betting environment where transparency and knowledge are paramount, ensuring that bettors are well-equipped with accurate data and insights.

Strategic Vision

Paruyr's vision is to revolutionize the sports betting industry through the integration of technology. He sees the future of betting as a blend of traditional sports knowledge with innovative tech solutions, like decentralized protocols, to enhance user experience and fairness. His aim is to create platforms that are not only user-friendly but also uphold the highest standards of ethical betting, contributing to a more responsible and enjoyable betting culture.

Future Perspectives

Looking towards the future, Paruyr envisions a betting landscape that is more inclusive, technologically advanced, and globally connected. He anticipates a significant shift towards more decentralized and transparent betting systems, driven by blockchain technology. Paruyr is committed to being at the forefront of this change, continuously exploring new possibilities and innovations that can redefine what it means to engage in sports betting in a digital world. His focus is on building systems that prioritize user empowerment, fairness, and the global growth of the sports betting community.


Anna Kravtcova
Anna Kravtcova
Problem Gambling Expert

Ph.D. in organizational psychology, an internationally certified psychologist (EuroPsy 2022, Cognitive behavioural therapy of mindfulness 2020, International Society for Emotional Intelligence 2017, Russian Psychological society 2014, American Psychological Association(Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychologist) 2011), speaker of many international conferences (USA, Brazil, Portugal, Czech Republic, Russia, etc.). TEDx speaker.

Sol Fayerman-Hansen
Sol Fayerman-Hansen

Sol's interest in sports was sparked at a young age, inspired by athletes such as Barry Sanders, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky. This early fascination evolved into a deep-seated passion, guiding him toward a career in sports journalism in 2007. Over the years, Sol has contributed thousands of articles and reviews to dozens of online platforms, sharing his research, knowledge, and perspectives.

“In the world of sports betting, truth is more valuable than any bonus offer.”

Content Manager, OnlineCasinoReports2012-2021
Sports Journalist, Dottraffic2009-2011
Content Writer, HouseTech2007-2009
Nick Ashbourne
Nick Ashbourne
Senior Writer

Nick has been fascinated with sports since he was first taken to a Toronto Maple Leafs game back in 1998, and he's written about them professionally since 2014.

Nick has covered baseball and hockey for outlets like The Athletic, Sportsnet, and Yahoo Sports, and his sports betting expertise has grown since its legalization in Ontario in 2022. 

Between 2022 and 2023 he worked for a betting startup called NorthStar Bets, and in 2024 he contributed to Oddspedia before joining the Responsible Gambling team.