Top soccer books to pass the time

Soccer books

In this time without soccer matches, reading books about soccer is a great way to deepen your appreciation for, and knowledge of, soccer. When the games come back, you’ll be a better informed and maybe even a better overall fan, inspired by what authors passionate about soccer wanted to impart to you and other readers.

I’m lucky to be able to say this from personal experience.

My two books about soccer, both published by The Overlook Press, came from a curiosity I had about aspects of the game in the United States and its history. "The United States of Soccer: MLS and the Rise of American Soccer Fandom," my book on the first 20 years of MLS, was both a celebration of an emerging North American supporter’s culture as well as an exploration of the league’s origins and growth.

My second book, "I Believe That We Will Win: The Path to A US Men’s World Cup Victory," literally came from a question from my publisher, the late, great Peter Mayer, who asked me in July 2016 what the U.S. needed to do to achieve that lofty goal. (As fate would have it, the book debuted a month before the 2018 World Cup, where the U.S. was conspicuously absent.)

Here’s a list of books that will both satiate and feed your curiosity about the beautiful game. (Note: This is by no means a complete list; feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments.)

The Classics

"Soccernomics" by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

This entertaining book looks at how economic forces shape soccer around the world, as well as how individual clubs' and nations' approaches to the game set them up for success or doom them to failure. Check out its provocative chapter titles to get a sense of its pulling-no-punches tone. (Note that an updated version came out for the 2018 World Cup to better focus on the success of eventual winner France.)

"How Soccer Explains the World" by Franklin Foer

To further elaborate on his direct title, Foer looks at soccer’s impact on its fans around the world and even the global economy. Part travel journal and part heady meditation on big topics, this is a well-written treatise that maintains personality while dealing in a more intellectual tenor than most books on the sport.  

"Fever Pitch" by Nick Hornby

Soccer fans everywhere have embraced this book as a way to explain to non-fans what it means to be a fan. This warm and humorous memoir, delving into what it means to love soccer and love your team no matter that, exemplifies the style Hornby brings to his popular novels. Though he’s an Arsenal fan, it’s relatable to even those who aren’t Gunners.

"The Ball Is Round" by David Goldblatt

Is this the "Infinite Jest" of soccer books? Weighing in at 992 pages, it’s hefty, for sure, but a must-read for anyone who wants to delve into the history of soccer. The book promises to explain how soccer transitioned from a “chaotic folk ritual” to the most popular sport in the world, spanning 19 centuries and many nations along the way.

"Inverting the Pyramid" by Jonathan Wilson

If you want to nerd out, Wilson’s your guy. This book explores soccer tactics through the years, including how different clubs, countries, and even regions developed specific styles in the ongoing question about how to best move a ball across a grass field and into a goal. It’s got a lot of fun history too, going back to times when five forwards were the norm.

Explaining MLS

"Soccer in a Football World" by David Wangerin

Though some consider the United States late to soccer, the first match on our shores was played in 1869, and as U.S. Open Cup fans know, American professional soccer clubs have been actively competing for more than a century. Wangerin does a well-researched exploration of American soccer on both the club and country level.

"The Beckham Experiment" by Grant Wahl

As many MLS fans know, the league was forever transformed when the LA Galaxy signed still-in-his-prime David Beckham to play in the league. Wahl’s book gives readers access to many of the prime players in the saga, including Alexi Lalas, Ruud Gullit, Landon Donovan, Victoria Beckham, and Beckham himself.

"When the Dream Became Reality" by Bobby Warshaw

If you’ve listened to Extra Time or visited, you know Warshaw is funny, earnest, and insightful, and that carries over into his memoir covering his playing career. It’s full of the highs and lows you’d expect, and though it includes his time in MLS, the section about his post-MLS playing time in Scandanavia is particularly fascinating.

"The Sound and The Glory" by Matt Pentz

It’s certainly debatable whether there’s one flagship MLS club, but if you were to make a shortlist of teams that were on it, you’d probably have to include the Seattle Sounders. Pentz makes a case, starting with the subtitle of his book, that Seattle’s team showed MLS how to win over American fans. He explores the MLS Cup-winning 2016 season in his insightful fashion. Timbers fans won’t like it, but if you’re not Sounders-averse, it’s worth your time. 

Modern Masters

"Masters of Modern Soccer" by Grant Wahl

This 2018 book places Wahl in the company of some of the best players of the game, including current Galaxy star
Javier “Chlcharito” Hernandez
U.S. men’s national team
standout Christian Pulisic, as well as legends like Xabi Alonso, Manuel Neuer, and Belgian national team coach (and former ESPN studio analyst) Roberto Martinez.

"The National Team" by Caitlin Murray

If you like soccer and America and winning, you should like the U.S. women’s national team. And chances are, you’ll like the back-to-back World Cup winners even more after Murray’s phenomenal exploration of the team’s history and personalities, which was released just prior to the team’s 2019 triumph in Lyon. More than 100 interviews went into the creation of the book, including many of the key players in the team’s ascendancy, as well as coaches and team officials. (It also delves into the inequality issues which have received considerable attention over the past few weeks.)

"The Club" by Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg

If you’re a Premier League fan, this 2018 book is one you’ll enjoy. This book revels in what it calls “the wildest, richest, most popular sports product on the planet,” focusing on its recent history and its brightest, shiniest global brands. Even MLS fans, in normal times, make Premier League matches destinations to see their teams and their rivals in action, and this book makes it all the more vivid.

"Encyclopedia Blazertannica" by Roger Bennett and Michael Davies

Finally, a book full of levity. Bennett and Davies, who have parlayed their warm and witty banter from the world of podcasts to television, put their humor and insight into book form with this 2018 offering. Though there’s a lot that soccer fans can learn here, it also offers “tactical variations of scarf tying” as well as discussing “complex physics and ethics of both celebratory knee slides and fights between players.”