On a rainy Thursday morning a month before the MLS regular season ended, I popped into the MLS Digital office in midtown Manhattan, awaiting Arielle Castillo. The MLS Digital Senior Editor took me up to the office, adorned with logos of each MLS club along the walls, and several television screens. After a quick look around the office and the studio where the MLS video “magic happens,” we opted to leave the “sterile” office and headed into Piccolo Cafe, around the corner from the office, for an hour long chat about the day to day at MLS Digital, being a woman in a male-dominated business, and her love of Arsenal Fan TV.
How did you get into the sport?
My family’s Cuban, and I’m Cuban-American, so actually, in terms of watching, we were mostly a baseball family and basketball, to some extent, after the Heat came to Miami. But I grew up playing soccer and then I got into following most professional soccer beyond the World Cup, when everyone watches, which is always a huge thing in Miami, actually through music. I was always into Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae of the 1960s and 1970s, and that’s how I got into Premier League, by seeing people wearing scarves and stuff like that. . . . I was really big into old English subcultures of the ‘70s.
I started following Premier League probably when I was 14 . . . My friends and I would pretend to be fans of all these different teams. At one point, we thought Newcastle United was really cool. I have this scarf that I bought from some store here in New York. . . . I’ve always followed Premier League since then, and then in more recent years, I really got into La Liga and then MLS.
How did you get into the industry?
I started doing soccer journalism during the  World Cup. I worked first at Fusion, which was, at that point, trying to be a cable network for young millennials. It was owned, at that point, by Univision and [Disney–ABC]. Being owned by Univision and being aimed at diverse millennials, soccer was a big thing there at that time, and they had a soccer show [Soccer Gods] and a big digital project, so that’s when I got into that.
How did you end up working at MLS Digital?
I heard about this opportunity last year and wound up here.
What does a day in the life at MLS Digital look like?
[laughs] It’s a cliché to answer, but there’s not necessarily a typical day because there is no typical day. . . . My title is Senior Editor. I do a lot of things, though, within MLS Digital because we have a video department, we’ve got a social media department, and I try to stay involved in all of those. I host and produce some videos and I also like working with our social team, so I’ll do some social media at some events.
[On] Monday, when the week is getting started, we’ll have an editorial meeting, talk about everything that happened over the weekend with games, talk about the biggest storylines coming out of them that we’re going to pursue, and we’ll talk about how we’re going to tell those stories. Is it going to be video? Is it going to be a written feature? Is it going to be just a social story? . . . I’ll have about half a day where I work on individual projects, either stories I’m reporting or things that other people are writing or creating for me. Usually, towards the end of the day, I’ll have a shift where I’ll hop on and start supervising everyone who’s working the news shift for our website. . . . At any given time, from nine a.m. to ten p.m. Eastern, we have a writer on duty whose job it is to cover all news that comes up and we’ll have a couple of editors on duty.
On game days, sometimes I’m at a game, reporting from a game or doing social media sometimes. More often, I am usually at home, supervising everything that’ll happen from either in the morning or at night. I usually work Saturdays, during the day. I definitely have the Saturday morning DeAndre [Yedlin], Lynden Gooch, Christian Pulisic beat.
Then, at night, we’ll obviously have eight different games running, so each game has its own sub staff of a writer who’s there, and a person who’s in charge of editing everything that comes [during] the game, video staff, social staff, so if I have a night shift, I’ll be supervising all of that.
You’ve said that you travel. Do you travel frequently?
It’s worked out to be every couple of months. This year hasn’t been quite as frequently, but it’s been further. I helped the social team with the first day of the season, so I went out to Seattle for that. I traveled to the MLS All-Star game, which was in San Jose. I’ll most likely be going to MLS Cup, and then I’m going to DC in a couple of weeks for a video project, and then next week, knock on wood, by the time this comes out, I’ll have been to Havana for the US-Cuba friendly. [Author’s note: She did go to Havana, and she detailed it wonderfully here.]
Is it a strain balancing this amount of travel with the rest of your life?
No, I like traveling. . . . I prefer being out there. I prefer, to be honest, not sitting at a desk. If I have my choice, even if it’s local, I’d rather be in the stadium at a game and talking to people and out in the world. But it’s never a long haul trip, it’s just a few days.
What is your favorite aspect about your job?
My favorite thing about the job is that because the league is young and our department is very young — MLS Digital, in its current form, has only been around since 2010 . . . the cool thing is, because it’s still a relatively small staff, it’s very entrepreneurial, so you can try a lot of things you want to try. You can try producing a video. You can try telling a story this or that way. You can try social media experiments.
How do you and your colleagues end up selecting the stories and topics that get covered on the site? Obviously, whether it’s right or wrong, there are people that are always clamoring that the league doesn’t like their team.
It’s really funny, because I think people can get tunnel vision. For me, personally, I try to make sure we cover all the teams. I should add, too, that my specialty, when I’m editing, is the intersection between soccer and culture, off the field stuff. To me, there are interesting stories like that at every team, and I try to make sure we tell those.
(editor’s note: I still remember “Nagbe Comma Darlington.”)
A lot of times, the biggest storylines will involve around the nationally televised games… I think it can seem that way, but to us, we also prioritize big games, like the run to playoffs, and those aren’t necessarily on national TV.
There was this one girl who sang the [national] anthem at the Philadelphia Union a bunch of times, and every time she appeared, they apparently won. I was trying to pursue that for a while [laughs]. Her name’s Ashli Rice*, so I think she’s the Union’s good luck charm. She’s from Chester, too. That was something I was trying to pursue. [laughs] I try to do stuff like that all the time, but no one tells me no, so that’s kind of good. Well, to a certain extent. [laughs]
(* editor’s side note about Ashli Rice: She was also the first designated national anthem singer at the Union’s matches, thus ending the fan tradition of a communal anthem.)
Do you read the comments on the articles that go up on MLS’ website?
I never read the comments. . . . I mean, sometimes I do, if I really feel like if I want to know how people feel about a specific news story.
There’s someone who comments as Freddy Adu and has been doing it for so long. It’s not like he just uses the name Freddy Adu — he writes as though he were Freddy Adu, in first person, like “when I was blah blah blah.” . . . There was this other guy — I don’t know if he still does it — but he used to go on our Power Rankings and leave elaborate fan fiction about how our editorial meetings went on, and he was very thorough. It was obviously someone who spent a lot of time on the site, because he would include everyone and write these very long dialogues about what used to happen in our editorial meetings — and they were long! They went on for paragraphs. It’s definitely like its own world in there. . . . If you want to get stuck and lose some time, that’s definitely a good place to go. There’s a lot of infighting.
Maybe this is another piece of advice, but comments are part of the internet. First of all, if you’re really producing a lot of stuff, don’t always read them. It’s not productive. Celebrities don’t read their own press. Some people leave really nice comments, but, people comment and they say something mean, and it’s not about you, anyway. . . . It’s about how they’re feeling about their day and they move on and they forget about it, so it’s just not worth giving a lot of mental space to that. That can be really tough, I think, if you’re not used to it.
Has Don Garber ever marched into the office and said “you’re doing something wrong!”?
[laughs] No, no. At the executive level, they’re really supportive of us trying new things and trying to engage fans.
Are there certain things where you’ve felt you’ve had to be censored or just not address at all, as you work for the league?
Not really. We are the league site, so when you’re working for the league, you’re representing the league. I feel like there aren’t a lot of surprises.
So, to jump to you and your fandom — let’s just state for the record that you’re an Arsenal fan.
Yes, I’m an Arsenal fan. I have been for a while, and that’s also partially because I can’t have a team in MLS.
Do you have a favorite player? Is it Alexis Sanchez’s dogs, by any chance?
They definitely have the best Instagram account. . . . It’s atomhumperoficia1, but it’s really funny, because I don’t think he does his own social media… whoever does it for him or under his direction, they now make these ridiculous Instagram stories that are just these collages of photos of the dogs and there’s always this syrupy music. . . . He always has these photo montages of his dogs, but it’s always set to — I don’t know if it’s Sting specifically — but it’s like Sting or Air Supply or something completely 70s, 80s, soft rock, middle of the road. It’s hilarious. He has the best Instagram game.
I love Olivier Giroud. I don’t care what anyone says. And I love [Petr] Čech. So the All-Star Game was fun for me this year, though they didn’t bring all of the big guys.
I mean, you are from Miami, where there hasn’t been a team in 15 years.
One of my friends who was with me and was looking up Premier League teams back in the day, he was super into Miami Fusion and I’m actually really excited because he just moved back to New York, so I’m going to take him to a game, and he’s just going to flip when he sees how big it’s gotten.
Part of it is that I can’t have an MLS team because no one wants to hear a journalist who’s a freaking homer and also I like both New York teams. I want them both to succeed. I know, it’s an unpopular opinion, but I literally want every team to win, but they can’t.
There’s not even one that you maybe don’t like a little bit?
In MLS? No. I truly like them all, and part of it is that I moved from a place that had no team. If anything, I’m somewhat partial to Orlando City because it’s the closest thing I have and I just think they have a good story. So the whole Arsenal thing allows me to have a fandom outlet.
In part two of this interview, Pardeep asks Arielle to share some of her advice for aspiring women in soccer media and also her personal views on how the experience has been as a woman in this space… Stay tuned, we guarantee it’s important to learn from her!