The Washington Post's Steven Goff on soccer reporting during the sport's rise in the USA

The Washington Post’s Steven Goff  is unique among American soccer journalists. He has covered the sport for the same newspaper longer than any other full-time newspaper soccer reporter in the USA. He started working for The Washington Post while a sophomore at American University in 1985 and has covered soccer regularly for the influential daily since 1991. The 52-year-old Goff, on the D.C. United beat since MLS's inaugural season of 1996, has covered on site the last seven men’s World Cups, dating back to 1994, four Women’s World Cups, and 20 MLS Cups.

Goff's affinity for journalism hails back to at age 10, when he started “Sports Profile,” a newsletter he sold to family and neighbors for 5 cents in his hometown of Keene, New Hampshire, which also happened to be a soccer hotbed.

SOCCER AMERICA: What was your introduction to soccer?

STEVEN GOFF: I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire where soccer was bigger than football, a rarity in the 1970s and 1980s. The influence came from the local university, Keene State College, which was an NAIA, then Division 2, then Division 3 program. A few players went on to play in the NASL.

The coach, Ron Butcher, was in charge for several decades. There was no football there, so soccer was the big fall sport. I remember going to matches and meeting the players at clinics and events. I played youth soccer until I was about 15. Typically came on in the 85th minute of a 3-0 game.

SA: How did you get started in journalism?

STEVEN GOFF: My senior year of high school, I began writing for the local daily paper, The Keene Sentinel. High school and summer league soccer were among my assignments.

At American University, I joined the student paper right away and helped cover the nationally ranked soccer team. Again, I was in an environment where, without football, soccer ruled the autumn months.

In my sophomore year, as sports editor, the AU men's team advanced to the NCAA final against UCLA at the Seattle Kingdome. The Bruins were coached by Sigi Schmid and featured Paul Caligiuri and David Vanole. UCLA won, 1-0, in the longest game in NCAA history (settled by a 167th-minute golden goal).

The rules have since been changed, of course. It was an extraordinary feat for American, a small school overshadowed by Georgetown and Maryland in the D.C. area. A few years after I started working at The Post part-time, the college soccer beat opened up. I leapt at the opportunity. It just happened to be soccer; if it had been basketball or lacrosse, I would have pursued that as well. I just wanted to write.

Steven Goff’s favorite soccer books

Too many good ones from which to choose, but when getting into soccer, I read "All Played Out" by Pete Davies and "Fever Pitch" by Nick Hornby. "Soccer in Sun and Shadow" by Eduardo Galeano is beautiful. All of Simon Kuper's work is terrific. I loved "Dynamo" by Andy Dougan.  Also, Johan Cruyff's "My Turn," "Futebol" by Alex Bellos. "Das Reboot" by Raphael Honigstein. For something different: "Finn McCool's Football Club" by Stephen Rea.

SA: What was American newspaper soccer coverage like in the 1980s and 1990s?

GOFF: Soccer in general was always the exotic, foreign sport in the eyes of most sports editors and sports directors. I came along after the NASL, so I couldn't speak about that era. But with the sport growing and local college and pro teams deserving coverage, soccer began to gain greater acceptance in newsrooms.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I wrote about the ASL/APSL teams in the area: Diplomats, Washington Stars and Maryland Bays. There was a small market for it, so the teams did not receive a lot of coverage.

I actually covered a lot of college soccer because Virginia under Bruce Arena became a national dynasty. I regularly drove two hours to Charlottesville for matches and attended the final four many times. Without a full-blown national pro league, college soccer filled the void. Everything changed when the World Cup arrived in 1994 and MLS launched in 1996.

SA: Why was the Washington Post so progressive in its soccer coverage?

GOFF: The longtime sports editor, George Solomon, saw soccer coverage as a way to attract new readers. He understood the passion for the game in a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city like Washington. He blanketed the 1994 World Cup with coverage and gave me the freedom to travel and write about the events leading to the tournament.

For a few years, appreciating the rapidly growing Latin American community, The Post every Friday published two full pages of soccer: one in English, one in Spanish. Since those early years, we have had multiple writers at every World Cup and staffed most Women's World Cups. The Post has also sent me to most U.S. World Cup qualifiers, both home and away. D.C. United's early success in MLS raised the bar for regular coverage of the team.

Steven Goff and his wife Karen at Wembley.

SA: What's your view on the effect of social media on soccer journalism?

GOFF: As with all topics, social media carries positive and negatives. It's a way to connect, to debate, to share information, to watch video from far-off places, to break news. Conversely, it creates an environment in which nothing else matters and perspective is lost. I've embraced it, but it is often exhausting.

If Steven Goff could change a rule
I hate the accumulation of two yellow cards over multiple matches resulting in suspension at major tournaments. Not all yellows are created equally: time-wasting is much different than a harsh tackle. Losing a player for an important match because he or she was slow to restart the game is ridiculous.

Steven Goff’s favorite soccer movies
Not a lot of good ones out there. Nonetheless …
The Damn United
The Other Final
Fever Pitch” (English version, not the American baseball version)
The Cup
Sixty Six
And of course ... “Victory

Outstanding games Steven Goff has seen in person ...
In no particular order, just off the top of my head, not necessarily because of the quality of play but the drama and importance or singular moment:

1996 MLS Cup (D.C. United 3, Los Angeles Galaxy 2
1999 Women's World Cup final (USA 0 China 0, PKs 5-4)
2006 World Cup group game (USA 1 Italy 1)
2006 World Cup semifinal (Germany 0, Italy 2)
2010 World Cup group game (USA 1 Algeria 0)
2012 NCAA semifinal (Georgetown 4 Maryland 4, PKs 4-3)
2014 World Cup semifinal (Brazil 1 Germany 7)
2015 Women's World Cup final (USA 5 Japan 2)
2018 World Cup final (France 4 Croatia 2)
2018 MLS regular season (D.C. United 3 Orlando City 2 -- Wayne Rooney's midfield tackle and assist)
Wild card: 1988 NCAA final four with three goalkeepers who went on to enjoy long club careers in England: Shaka Hislop (Howard), Kasey Keller (Portland), Juergen Sommer (Indiana).

8 comments about "The Washington Post's Steven Goff on soccer reporting during the sport's rise in the USA".
  1. Stirling Rasmussen, February 20, 2019 at 9:13 a.m.

    I worked at The Washington Post in those early years of coverage and regularly would walk into George Solomon's office and ask for more coverage. George used to say, "More butts in seats will get more coverage." I'm glad he supported Steve before the seats got more regularly filled. Steve's coverage was part of getting more butts in seats.

  2. Kevin Leahy, February 20, 2019 at 9:38 a.m.

    Did you attend the USWNT during the 1999 WC against Germany at Fed-Ex? The US came back from a 2-0 to win 3-2. It was very exciting and I never saw so many Mia Hamm jerseys in my whole life.

  3. Richard Broad, February 20, 2019 at 9:48 a.m.

    Excellent interview with a man who has contributed far more to the POSITIVE growth of soccer than most people are aware of.

  4. frank schoon, February 20, 2019 at 3:55 p.m.

    Good guy! We needed him badly in those days when there was little journalistic support for soccer in DC area

  5. Craig Cummings, February 20, 2019 at 8:59 p.m.

    I always love to read his posts. He has been great for soccer in the  USA. And i live in So Cal, not near DC. I wonder if he ever met Grahme Jones the old  LA Times sooccer writer, who was around here for years, and covered the LA Aztecs and every thing else about soccer for maybe 20 plus years.

  6. frank schoon replied, February 21, 2019 at 8:04 a.m.

    Sorry, Craig, never heard of him and neither have I heard of Ca.  :)

  7. frank schoon replied, February 21, 2019 at 8:04 a.m.

    Sorry, Craig, never heard of him and neither have I heard of Ca.  :)

  8. Ken Garner, February 21, 2019 at 4:37 p.m.

    What a great career, and still doing great work. From a relatively new convert, thanks for what you do. And thanks for including Rooney’s awesome hustle play in your list of memorable games. Before that play I liked Rooney; since that play I’ve loved him!

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