Alex Yannis started covering the Cosmos before Pele joined the team. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com)
By Michael Lewis
Alex Yannis, who covered soccer in the United States and the rise of the New York Cosmos and Pele for the New York Times before the sport became fashionable, has died.
He was 84.
Yannis was the third soccer journalist to pass away in the last eight days, and second USA media member to die. Grant Wahl died while covering the World Cup in
He died Wednesday at a residential hospice in New City, N.Y. of interstitial lung disease, his son, John, told the Associated Press. Yannis would have turned 85 on Sunday, the day of the World Cup final.
Yannis also wrote stories about college, amateur and semi-pro soccer in the New York metropolitan area and on the national scale as well.
In 2009, Yannis received the Colin Jose Media Award from the National Soccer Hall of Fame, which is given to a journalist whose career made significant contributions to the sport.
Yannis was at the right place at the right time as The Times in 1967, taking on the soccer beat when very few writers wanted to touch it. Baseball and football were the treasured beats. He was a news assistant on the metro desk.
Several former NASL players reacted to Yannis’ passing on Facebook.
Cosmos’ Santiago Formoso: “Without any doubt my favorite journalist of my playing days and a great human being, so sorry to hear of his passing, my condolences to his family & friends . Rest In Peace”
Cosmos forward Joe Fink: “So very sorry…….always a gentleman……wonderful writer”
Miami Toros’ Tommy Mulory: “ oh my God One of the original soccer journalist he really did a first class job. So down to earth so knowledgeable such a passion for our sport and the people in it. Rest in peace my friend love from the Mulroys to all your family and friends“
Francisco Marcos, who founded the United Soccer League, knew Yannis from way back in the day.
“I’m devastated ….my friend, my collaborator, my monthly columnist in SOCCER MONTHLY that I founded in 1974 with his ‘My America’ column… together at Mexico’s 86 World Cup…a lover of the game , a good man, husband and father. RIP Alex,” he wrote.
Yannis helped start a tradition of writers paying their own way to cover events.
In his 1980 book, Inside Soccer, Yannis talked related the 1970 NASL championship game between the Rochester Lancers and Washington Darts at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Yannis approached Dallas Tornado owner Lamar Hunt, one of the driving forces of game that spanned the decades to Major League Soccer, what he was doing in the boondocks.
“I didn’t know what I was doing there either,” Yannis wrote. “My colleagues in the press, most of them from the Washington area, thought The New York Times was crazy to send me to cover the game. I was ashamed to tell them I had attended on my own.”
That passion was brought to the World Cup – at the 1974 world championship in West Germany. According to the AP, he offered The Times coverage in exchange for a credential and possible expense reimbursement. He got his expenses reimbursed; his son John told the AP. Yannis’ story about West Germany’s 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in the final ran on the front page.
Yannis covered soccer through the beginning of Major League Soccer as the NY/NJ MetroStars was his primary responsibility. He also covered the New Jersey Devils in the National Hockey League and local golf.
Born in Kartharitsi, Greece, he played semi-pro soccer in his native country for 11 years. He attended school in Cambridge, England and City College in New York City.
He also coached the game at various levels for many years.
Yannis was survived by his son, John, and his second wife, the former Guoquin Zhang, whom he married in 1999. His first wife, Joan, died in 1998.
A funeral is scheduled for at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in West Nyack, N.Y. on Monday.