Kraig Chiles: A Real, Honest-to-Goodness Socker

by Michael Lewis

He is a real, honest-to-goodness, San Diego Socker.

Kraig Chiles learned his soccer and honed his skills in Southern California as a youth, playing in local clubs, high school and college before turning pro a little more than a decade ago.

The 35-year-old forward has accomplished much in his arena soccer career.

He helped San Diego capture four consecutive Professional Arena Soccer League championships.

Individually, that includes winning three scoring titles and as many MVP awards, a playoff MVP honor and wearing the Red, White and Blue of the U.S. Futsal National Team and captaining the side.

If there was one item missing from Chiles' impressive resume, it is a Major Arena Soccer League title.

Many observers in the MASL universe felt that the Sockers would finally win it all. After all, they were the favorites entering the 2019 playoffs with only one blemish and an astonishing 23-1 record. They were eliminated by the Monterrey Flash in the Western Conference final in extratime, 4-3.

Chiles has been around the arena soccer block enough to realize that there were many intangibles that go into winning a league championship.

"We feel every year we make the improvements to get there," he said, "but as everyone knows, it's about getting to the playoffs and doing the little details right and winning those four to six games. Last year we put together a great regular season and it was a fantastic season for the organization on and off the field, with Landon [Donovan] coming in and the attendance spike and a kind of a re-marketing.

"But in the same sense, we fell short of our goal again and that was the championship. It's a little bit frustrating, but we're giving ourselves a chance every year and hopefully we get ourselves in a good position in those playoffs and we roll the dice again. There are a lot of good teams and there are a number of teams that can take down the championship every year. It's really about being fit, healthy, ready to go at the end of the year and executing in those critical moments."

Perhaps the 2019-2020 season will be the year the Sockers will parade around with the Ron Newman Cup. It would be quite appropriate because Newman guided the Sockers to 10 Major Indoor Soccer League championships in 11 years.

"It would mean a lot," Chiles said. "Being a San Diego Socker, we're all familiar with Ron Newman and his legacy, what he brought to the indoor game back in the day. He was a visionary and he helped revolutionize on the way indoor soccer was played back then when it was a new sport. It would be important for us to carry on that legacy that Ron started."

Chiles was a standout player at Poway High School in Poway, Calif. before he attended San Diego State University. There, he was named to the All-Pac 10 team three times. He was chosen ninth overall by CD Chivas USA in the 2008 Major League Soccer supplemental draft.

The 5-11, 185-lb. Chiles was a natural to play in small-sided games because he played indoor soccer with his friends when he wasn't competing for his club team, the Nomads.

"I grew up playing indoor soccer throughout the entire year," he said. "It's not like maybe in Baltimore or Milwaukee there's something with indoor for six months and outdoor for six months. I played outdoor for 12 months and I played indoor for 12 months. I enjoyed it. It was a game that I loved."

He spent the 2008 season with Chivas, which helped him decide a major career shift. Chiles was offered his first professional contract by former U.S. international Preki, then the Chivas head coach who had forged a career as an outstanding indoor soccer player.

"When I spoke to Preki in those initial conversations he kept saying, 'You're the best small-sided player I've seen,' " Chiles said. "Throughout the year I was at Chivas, I struggled to cover a lot of ground on the field, but when I played I was fairly impactful and he kept saying, 'If I was going to take a team to play 7 v 7, you'd be the first one I'd pick. Looking back right now 12 years later, it's kind of funny because he was an indoor player at a very, very high level and he recognized that I was potentially an indoor player the second I left college. It's a small little world of how it ended up shaking out in the end."

A day after leaving Chivas USA, an opportunity to play for the Sockers opened up. "That literally rolled over seamless from outdoor to indoor," he said.

Chiles admitted he was fortunate as he was surrounded by several legends on the Sockers, including Aaron Susi, Paul Wright, Sean Bowers (now the general manager) and Braeden Cloutier with head coach Phil Salvagio directing the squad. Chiles bonded with Susi, another San Diego native who took him under his wing and helped teach him the finer points of the game.

"I was starting up top basically with 100 years of indoor experience around me," he said. "They really helped cater and educate me in the sport, how to sub, when to sub, how to utilize the boards, use the space around the you. I really was mentored by a lot of super veteran players."

Now, Chiles has come full circle, becoming the mentor and teacher as team captain after connecting for 353 goals in 154 games. Last season he finished tied for seventh in league scoring with 35 goals and 14 assists for 49 points.

"I take very much the responsibility as the captain and leader of the team to preach to these younger players or these new players to the organization that the crest means a lot and there were a lot of very good players that laid the foundation that we have to continue to carry on," he said. "The foundation was very much winning ways and we've got to make sure that one, competing on the field and can push for championship every year and two, you carry yourselves well when you're representing the Sockers. You know it's a big brand and it's bigger than every individual in the organization. It's a heavy crest. It’s something that these guys have to understand that there's a deep history. You're either going to be part of it or you're not."

Chiles, of course, has been a big part of it.

Interesting story: Chiles had an opportunity to leave San Diego several years ago when he said the Wichita Wings offered him a contract that was three times what he was earning with the Sockers. A seductive offer for any player, but Chiles went over the pros and cons of such a potential move.

"I went to Phil and the organization and said, 'I just been offered a contract that I don't know if I can refuse,' " he said. "Phil said, 'As a friend, you should take that contract. I cannot compete with that. You should go to Wichita and go do it.' "

Chiles decided to stay put, which was a decision that has set him up after his playing days are over.

"In retrospect, now I've got a six-figure coaching job and that's my main income," said Chiles, who is director of coaching of the Cardiff Mustangs soccer club. "If I would have left for Wichita, I don't know if any of that would have happened. I think it’s important for ... players to be loyal and i think in soccer in general, in club soccer, in professional soccer, in collegiate soccer, loyalty is something that is completely falling out of the game. For me, it's disappointing. I think players need to look at that a little closer and go like, 'I'd rather be playing for 10 years with a good franchise than bounce around year after year after year and chasing another couple of hundred bucks.' I love being a local player and having all my friends and family at the game and that for me, is as important as anything. In the same light I am also playing for one of the best franchises in the game historically and currently one of the teams that is pushing for championships every year. I'm also in a very plush situation in comparison to other players may be in a different situation."

At 35, Chiles realized his playing career could be over in a few years. He signs a one-year contract every season and assess the previous season with the club.

"Every year after the season we essentially go into this evaluation period where, 'Were you impactful? Do you feel like you have another year?' Thus far, my body feels good. I have been able to impact the game in a positive way," he said. "My game has changed drastically year after year and I've become more of a leader, more of a mentor and more of a supporting player than I was obviously five or six years ago.

"Having good luck and no catastrophic injuries, I'm hoping to keep going for another two or three years at best," he said. "I have nothing but support from my wife and my family, which is a big one."

Chiles has three small children who attend Sockers games on a regular basis and they have the time of their life and enjoy an experience not many kids have the opportunity to explore.

"They love going to the arenas and that's what's given me that kind of that extra motivation and push now that I'm kind of getting on in age," he said. "They light up after the game when they get to run around the field for an hour and play in the big arena. There are dozens of them. It helps keep me going. It's a small percentage of people that can bring their kids in the locker room and take their kids on the field. I want them to remember these moments and cherish them and understand that this is not every day, that this is super cool stuff and I hope that it gives them the love for the game that I've got.

"I still love the game. I love competing. And I feel healthy and as long as those three things are still around, I don't see why I would stop playing."

And there is another motivation -- that elusive MASL title.

The Sockers open their season against the Turlock Cal Express at the Pechanga Arena San Diego on Sunday, Nov. 24. They have added four new players that are trying to get acclimated to the team's system.

"Everything's going very smoothly," Chiles said. "We look very, very similar to last year. It should be a good season for us."

It just depends on how good the team will be to make a championship run.

Perhaps 2019-20 will be the time for an actual San Diego Socker.