Hardcore MLS fans might remember Bryan Byrne, a hot prospect from the 2007 SuperDraft. An Irish national who played in that country’s second division as a teen, he eventually made his way to UC Santa Barbara’s college program. When he took that team to a national championship, he wound up squarely on MLS radars – and drafted 35th pick in 2007.
That took him to one season with the New England Revolution, which included a US Open Cup win. But he put his pro career on pause after that season, and things eventually took a turn to soccer culture off the field.
These days, Byrne’s the head of SoccerCleats101, one of the most thorough and in-depth sites in the US for boot reviews and news. He’s also, naturally, a serious collector himself – and both things put him at the vanguard of a steadily building boot-collecting culture in North America.
We caught up with Byrne to find out how he went from the pitch to the web – and his thoughts on boot culture now. Here’s what he had to say.
MLSSoccer.com: How did you wind up going from the Revolution to starting your site?
Bryan Byrne: I was drafted with the 35th pick in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft. The big problem at that point was trying to get myvVisa. I got drafted in January and I didn’t get properly signed and have my visa until May. It took a long time to get cleared and be a proper part of the team.
I stayed in New England for the 2007 season; we won the Open Cup, we won the reserve league, and then we lost in the MLS Cup final.
[Then] I left New England I was trying to figure out what I would do next. The idea was to keep myself involved in the soccer world somehow. After my experience in New England I knew that if I was going to sign with another MLS team, that I would be a reserve player. I wasn’t at the level I needed to be at to be an MLS starter. So would I continue to chase the dream knowing I wouldn’t be an MLS starter, or I could transition to something else.
I ended up taking a job with an internet retail company, and they asked me to start a blog around something that I was interested in. I have always been interested in boots, so it seemed the perfect subject to start a website on.
I would say within the first month I had the blog up I was getting a ton of traffic. Nobody else in the US at the time was talking about soccer foot wear. There were some sites in the UK, but nobody here in the US was doing it. So immediately it garnered a lot of traction and it was easy for me to write about.
How did you transition from doing this for a company you were working for, to taking it beyond that into a full-time thing on your own?
It didn’t take too long. It gained a lot of traction very quickly and I got to the stage where I could have stayed with that company, but I was more invested with what I was doing with my own site. I wanted to be able to do partnerships and work with people in the soccer world rather than the world I was in. So I decided to branch out so I could spend more time on the website.
When you started the initial blog in 2008, nobody here in the US was really blogging about boots at that time. All of a sudden in 2016, the boot market is very different and much more mainstream. What is the market like now versus what it was like when you first started covering it in 2008?
It’s way different. In 2008 you could write about one new boot per month and you wouldn’t see a change for that boot for quite some time. There were no limited editions. Back then it was less writing about new products, and more about what players were wearing.
Now, every single day there is a new boot or new colorway being released by a brand. Back in 2008, people had a better understanding of what boots were about, and what performance they could expect from them.
Currently, it’s much more of a challenge for consumers to decipher what’s on the market because there is always something new. You can literally order a brand new boot today and by the time it arrives at your door a week later, there is a new color in that same silo. Brands have caught on to the fact that limited editions and special-edition boots are what fans want.
Another favorite from Byrne's personal collection. Photo courtesy of Bryan Byrne
How much do you think this parallels American sneaker culture, which has long relied on such limited-edition releases?
I think it is part of the culture here. As you said with sneakers, it’s a constant part of the US culture where everyone is familiar with limited releases and everybody wants something that is more unique. Whereas with the UK, it’s all about the Copa Mundial and several other traditional style of boots that are constant mainstays in the market for a very long time.
How much do you think these releases are helping grow interest in the US in the sport itself?
One hundred percent it does. You see it through social media. Back in 2008, if there was a new release we would put it up online and within 24 hours the site would be booming with traffic.
Now, everybody is posting images of the boots. You have the big sites posting about them. They are all covering new boot releases. It’s now a part of the mainstream soccer news cycle. They all pick it up and they all want to talk about it.
Then you see social media where you have people who have an interest in boots and buy as many as they can. There are young guys that have massive followings because they are buying every new edition of a boot. The exposure is huge right now.
A small selection from Byrne's collection. Photo courtesy of Bryan Byrne
What is happening right now in the world of boots that you find particularly interesting?
I think it is very interesting that brands are latching on to and pushing the higher ankle collar. Ten years ago this would have been unheard of -- having a boot that has a similar silhouette to a basketball or American football shoe.
No way that would have been imaginable. But brands have latched onto the idea of this higher collar and it is way different than what we have ever seen with a soccer boot. It’s such a unique concept.
If you had to wear one pair of boots for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Of any boot ever released? I think right now, I would go for the adidas Gloro. It’s like the updated version of the Copa Mundial. Everything about the boot is simple yet effective.
You have the traditional leather upper. The soleplate is pretty minimal in terms of design but its functionality is perfect for AG and FG. I prefer the lower-cut ankle lining. I could wear this boot and not have to worry about anything.