For the Love of Soccer
Former Haverford soccer player Adam Cann ’06 is a tactical wiz, and now writes about the game he loves for the Philly Soccer Page.
Adam Cann ’06 had two very specific thoughts when he began writing for The Philly Soccer Page in 2009. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” the former Haverford soccer player thought as he prepared to cover the sport known as football outside of the United States. “And how quickly will I be found out?”
He wasn’t a sportswriter by trade. But with a passion for and in-depth knowledge of the game he’s been playing since he was five, Cann quickly found an audience. He’s still at it. At last count, his tally was 800 posts for the Philly Soccer Page. And he’s still writing for the love of the game instead of for pay—and balancing his soccer reporting with his studies toward a marketing Ph.D. at Texas Tech University.
The Charlotte, N.C., native has a cerebral approach to soccer, which drew him to the sport in the first place.
“The original appeal was the dynamic nature of the sport,” he says. “Once it starts, it keeps going. You have to figure out what’s happening on the fly. I also figured out that you didn’t have to be big, strong, or considered fast to still be competent and a regular contributor.”
On top of that, Cann was a rarity as a soccer player. While most people love the thrill and glory of scoring goals, he found joy in playing defense, disrupting opponents’ game plans.
“There are a lot of people who want to be on the ball, and it’s really fun to take it off of them,” he says. “If I can figure out who I want to defend and take them out of the game, teams often don’t have a backup plan.”
A history major, Cann never thought about pursuing a career writing about a game that has only recently become popular in the United States. But while Cann was playing for a Philadelphia club team after his graduation from Haverford, a journalist asked if there were any players who could write for a new website focused on the sport in Philly with a particular focus on Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union, which had just been founded in 2008. Cann—who grew up devouring the columns of Charlotte Observer sportswriter Tom Sorensen— jumped in while working at a local bookstore.
This wasn’t just a fans-writing-for-fans site—the Union issued a press credential to The Philly Soccer Page, giving Cann the chance to speak to players and coaches after matches. He found that stressful at first, before realizing he could build relationships with those in the locker room.
These days, Cann’s expertise lies mainly in what’s called “tactical analysis:” blog posts that feature a detailed breakdown—with video clips—of the strategies used during games, including the way players funnel the action toward one side of the pitch to take advantage of a weakness, or the way they employ plays like free kicks.
“It’s asking what big decisions coaches made,” he explains. “It’s looking at the major incidents that tell us something about what the teams are trying to do to score or prevent goals.”
Cann had other passions as well. Years after he began writing for The Philly Soccer page, while working at Saint Joseph’s University Press, he discovered a love for social psychology and decided to pursue a graduate degree by cold-calling a professor at Texas Tech, which accepted him, although he eventually pivoted to focus on marketing. Leaving Philadelphia for Lubbock, Texas, meant Cann wouldn’t be able to cover Union games in person, but he’s still pumping out tactical analyses.
“I generally try to write about matches as an extremely interested outsider who is trying to make points about how players played, not about the players themselves,” he says. “I do it because I love the people I work with, but also because it fits into that happy valley as something I care about enough to spend hours thinking and writing about without, I hope, being too emotionally involved to analyze it critically and coolly.”