By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 25, 2019) US Soccer Players - American soccer fans generally know where to look for breaking news. A relatively small corps of reporters and outlets tend to deliver most of the scoops and tidbits. This year, though, a few of the most interesting news items around MLS have come from an unexpected source.
Benny Feilhaber, Sal Zizzo, and Ike Opara were once teammates at Sporting Kansas City, part of a squad filled with characters and animated conversations. Feilhaber and Zizzo charmed SKC fans with a quirky video series for the club’s website called “the Benny Feilhaber Show.” So when Zizzo retired earlier this year and Feilhaber was traded back to KC, they decided to launch BS The Podcast, featuring a range of guests from Carlos Vela to Landon Donovan to Stu Holden. Within months the weekly show was drawing thousands of listeners and occasionally even breaking news.
“It was something we always wanted to do but didn’t know when. And with my retirement being when it was, I had a little bit more time on my hands and didn’t have to focus 24/7 on soccer,” Zizzo, who now works in the real estate industry in Las Vegas, said in a recent conversation with USSoccerPlayers.com.
Zizzo’s brother helps them with production. Despite two of them still being on a professional player’s busy schedule, they still find time to link up via Skype to record episodes, though they’ll take a break during the upcoming MLS offseason.
“I don’t think we knew we would end up doing soccer players for every single episode, the thought was at first we’d just get a podcast and we’d probably start talking about random things,” said Feilhaber. “We definitely didn’t expect it to become what it’s become.”
The trio’s track records as players, combined with an easygoing but inquisitive style, inspires frank conversations, juicy gossip and some striking revelations. From Vela revealing the inside story behind his near-move to FC Barcelona last winter to Michael Parkhurst’s stories about his long and successful career, it’s made the podcast one of the most interesting products in a US soccer media landscape that still tends to run short on the personalities and controversies found in other sports.
“The best part about it is that when people come on, they feel like they’re basically just sitting in a locker room with us, just talking,” said Zizzo. “There’s not a million people critiquing every little thing they say. That’s kind of been our benefit, to get a lot of people on the show that have been hard to even get a regular interview out of.”
That creates a fly-on-the-wall experience for listeners who get a window into the type of banter that rarely happens in more formal interactions between players and journalists. Opara takes it up another notch with his specialty segment, where guests must answer at least four out of his five probing questions and get to ask one of their own if they face all five.
“I think the craziest thing is ‘Ike’s Interrogation’ – Ike’s done a really good job with this,” said Feilhaber. “He does it naturally so he doesn’t even think about it but the way he asks the questions, it’s almost become something now when people come on the show, they actually want to not plead the Fifth, no matter what it is that he’s asking. Some of these are really hard questions – there’s no way some of these guys are answering these questions after a game to a reporter. But on [the podcast], it’s almost like a game … Ike’s got a talent in that sense.”
The trio say they don’t compare themselves to other soccer media. In fact they seem to be living in something of a different universe from other comparable products.
“I just think that there’s some things that unfortunately are not going to change,” said Feilhaber. “The relationship that players have with reporters is one of, ‘yeah I’ll give you the information but I’m also not going to give you too much,’ I don’t know if it has to do with some reporters out there will potentially write a story that sometimes won’t put the player in the best light. But I just think that players are typically on their guard to some extent. You’re taught that, you’re taught that you can’t say certain things, you should say this, you shouldn’t say that … there’s a lot of cliched answers. And I think that the reason we’re able to not get those cliched answers is because we’re players.”
Added Zizzo: “It just comes down to trust, right? … We’re one of them, so they trust that we’re not going to do anything to twist our words or put them in a spot that shows them in a bad light. Whereas sometimes with reporters you’re getting interviewed by six or seven people, and most of them you don’t even know. You’re always on your guard.”
The show’s appeal helped lead to a guest analyst spot for Feilhaber on the MLS website’s playoff shows, hinting at the possibility of a future broadcasting career for the 44-times-capped USMNTer. Yet even as they gain a brighter spotlight, the trio are determined to keep their loose, independent vibe. The “mutual respect” they have with their guests that helps lay the groundwork for honesty, and usually no shortage of laughter, in conversations that often run the better part of an hour.
“We made it a point that we didn’t want to be tied in to any MLS team or the league or anything like that. We wanted to make sure it was on our terms,” said Feilhaber. “That was number one for us and I think that will forever remain.”
He wryly noted that social media has recently provided them with a real sign of arrival in these modern times.
“We’ve actually had some really funny little hate tweets on Twitter recently,” he said, “so now we really know we’ve made it. So that’s a positive.”
More from Charles Boehm:
- End of an era in Charleston
- USMNT ready to "do the business" in Concacaf Nations League
- The Portland Timbers’ Diego Valeri dilemma
- Seattle Sounders among those staring at do or die situations as new MLS format sinks in
Logo courtesy of BS The Podcast