Interviews

John Motta, One-on-One: Adult soccer's biggest needs, Steinbrecher Cup and dreaming of a women's open cup

John Motta, president of the U.S. Adult Soccer Association, talks to FourFourTwo about the importance of growing the oft-overlooked adult game.

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FourFourTwo USA: Carlos Cordeiro was elected president of U.S. Soccer on Feb. 10. How have things gone since as it relates to the adult game?

Motta: Carlos has been extremely busy, as we all know, with the [2026 World Cup] bid. He’s traveling every corner of the world trying to secure the World Cup bid for the United States, which is the No. 1 priority right now. So, because of that, some items have been delayed for discussions. We’ve had a few board calls since the election, so we have taken care of some business. I’m not criticizing him at all, because I understand how important it is that USA gets the bid, and how bringing the World Cup to the United States would further grow the game here. Hopefully, once that whole scenario is over, then we can start focusing on domestic things in the United States.

FFT: U.S. Soccer needs a new general manager and head coach, but what specifically is on your list for things that need to get done?

Motta: I know one thing that my members feel very strongly about … during the AGM, there was a call for fee reduction for membership. A lot of the members stood up in support of it. That’s one thing that I know that my members keep asking me about: ‘What’s happening with the fee?’ My answer is always, well, Carlos is very busy with the World Cup bid right now, so it hasn’t been talked about yet, I'm sure we will discuss it in the future.

FFT: Do you see a solution for the fees issue?

Motta: It seems like a very simple solution: cut the fees by 50 percent. That’s what USASA asked for. All it takes is for the board to approve it and to go to the membership with it. It’s a very doable thing and I know it’s something that Carlos spoke a lot about during the campaign with the members. I’m sure that once the bid is over, he will sit down and have a discussion about it.

FFT: How important is this year and this moment for the adult game? NPSL seems to have some momentum and some amateur teams enjoyed early success in the U.S. Open Cup this year. The spectrum of the adult game obviously goes beyond that high of a level …

Motta: I think you can break the adult game into two segments. The first is the highly competitive – the NPSL, the UPSL, the Division 1 leagues at the state association levels. I think, right now, what I’m seeing is there’s a lot of momentum out there. There’s a lot of talk about amateur soccer and community-based soccer, getting your community behind you – local teams. I’ve been pushing that a lot on social media. Because, again, it’s something simple. It’s in your backyard. It doesn’t cost a lot to attend a game, and you can get a following. Some clubs do a great job – you look at Chattanooga, Detroit City. They get their fans out there. … There is definitely a lot of momentum at that level. The UPSL is about to hit 200 teams.

Then, there is a second sector, which is at the state level, which is something that – we’ve got to kind of crack that nut. It’s mostly the rec, local guys – especially the millennial's now who like to just get together, pick guys, have a game, have a beer after the game. Nothing formal, no practice, just a bunch of guys and girls getting together on the field, picking teams, having fun, enjoying the game. There’s a lot of that going on and a lot of it is not affiliated with us. We’ve got to try to figure out how we can manage that and get them under our umbrella. We do have a lot of it, but there’s a lot that we don’t have.

There’s also the unaffiliated, like the Hispanic leagues out there. There’s a huge amount of those leagues that we’d love to capture. That’s been a hard nut to crack.  A lot of those leagues have people who makes a living off those leagues. They don’t see the benefit of paying us $15 per player – which is $15 out of their pocket – to become a member of U.S. Soccer. One of the things I’m hoping Carlos will do as president, is to put together a Latino task force – something that really focuses on Latinos and how we can get them into the family and get them to join U.S. Soccer. I think that is something that U.S. Soccer [could use], something that takes a serious look at the Latino population out there.

FFT: When it comes to these informal leagues, what are the benefits of capturing them under the USASA umbrella?

Motta: One of the big benefits we have is we provide them with insurance, especially liability insurance. Some of these guys may have their own insurance, but I think a lot of them play without insurance. It’s going to take one incident where somebody could lose everything they own.   We’ve had two incidents with USASA in the last few years, where a referee was punched and died, and another guy was injured in a tryout and became a paraplegic. Those were pretty significant payouts that the insurance company had to do. If that were an unaffiliated league, with no insurance, they’d be looking after their homes or whatever. So, one of the big risks of doing that is not having the insurance. We do offer secondary medical insurance. …

Another thing we have is certified referees. A lot of these leagues, they just use friends of theirs to referee these leagues and I don’t know if the quality is there. We offer quality refereeing, trained refereeing by U.S. Soccer.

Our motto is, ‘We’re the game for life.’ So, you can be 18 or you can be 70 – which we have – and still be playing the game.

FFT: There’s the Hank Steinbrecher Cup and the National Amateur Cup. Is one considered bigger than the other?

Motta: The USASA Amateur Cup is one of the oldest cups in the country, and that’s our most prestigious cup. For the amateur division, that is our national amateur cup. We also have an open cup that is basically a version of the US Open Cup.   Before the Federation took over the Open Cup, USASA ran the U.S. Open Cup and when the Federation took it over, we kept a USASA Open Cup (the Werner Fricker Cup) in place. The major difference in these two cups are, in the amateur cup, you can only have amateur players registered, whereas in the Open Cup you can have both amateur and professional players registered on your team.

We have the Over-30 Cup [the Gerhard Mengel Cup], and the one cup I’d really love to resurrect is the women’s amateur cup, which we’d had in place for a long time. The interest kind of died down, so we don’t have it right now, but I met with the WPSL at their annual meeting and they have some new ownership. They are very much interested in resurrecting both a women’s amateur cup and a women’s open cup through U.S. Soccer. I’ll be working on both of those things in the coming year.

FFT: Is the best way to define the Hank Steinbrecher Cup as the cup of champions?

Motta: Yup, it’s the National Amateur National Champions cup. You’ve got the NPSL champion, the PDL champion, the USASA champion. Right now, we’ve gone with last year’s champion [as the fourth team]. So, it is the championship of all the champions. This is really the cup that determines who is the No. 1 amateur team in the country. (Editor's note: PDL side Michigan Bucks won the tournament for the second straight year on Saturday.)

FFT: Where would you like to take it in terms of visibility and importance?

Motta: I think it’s slowly gaining momentum. Like everything else, everything takes time to flourish. Is it ever going to be like the U.S. Amateur Cup? Probably not, but I would like for it to continue to grow and see a lot more interest. Maybe get some commercial property behind it. We livestream it, but it would be nice to get the final on TV. Those are big goals, but they are not impossible goals. This is the best amateur soccer in the country.

FFT: You mentioned a women's open cup. The biggest challenge there would be NWSL buy-in. Do you think that’s imminent?

Motta: [At a recent U.S. Soccer meeting], I actually brought up the idea of, let’s start a U.S. women’s open cup. And the pushback I got was, they don’t think the women’s professional teams are ready for it. Other than maybe one or two women’s teams, they are all struggling, so to put them into another competition where they possibly have to travel or play another game, would just financially make it harder for them. Even if we just started off with the amateur teams – and when the professional teams are ready, they can enter – I think it’s doable.

FFT: What would you say to the people who don’t understand the importance of the adult playing population to the entire ecosystem of U.S. Soccer? Is it an element of keeping the game in people’s lives?

Motta: Yeah, our motto is, ‘We’re the game for life.’ So, you can be 18 or you can be 70 – which we have – and still be playing the game. Our Soccer Fest, which we hold every year and this year will be up in Bellingham, Washington, we have teams from Over-30 up to Over-75. And we have a team that travels every year from Japan. They’ve been coming since this Competition started 20 years ago.  It’s our 20th year this year – and those guys are 70-plus. One guy celebrated his 80th birthday and he was playing. It is the game for life, so you can play it all the way throughout your whole life. That’s our motto, and we believe it.

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