Daryl Grove on being a soccer podcast pioneer and the changing attitude of U.S. national team fans

Daryl Grove started the Total Soccer Show in 2009 with current co-host Taylor Rockwell at a time when soccer podcasts -- and podcasts in general -- were few and far between. They started with a weekly, 27:30-long segment that aired on their local public radio in their hometown of Richmond, Virginia. It focused on the English Premier League and the U.S. national team. Today, the duo works the show full-time and sometimes publishes twice a day, covering everything from the American soccer underbelly with Top Drawer Soccer to in-depth Women’s World Cup analysis. In January, Grove was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, and the medical bills were mounting. When Grove mentioned it on a Total Soccer Show episode, the American soccer community rushed to his aid, passing his gofundme goal in a matter of days. The tremendous support Grove felt from around the country, including from Grant Wahl and Alexi Lalas, helped him and Rockwell to continue their work on one of the best soccer podcasts around.

SOCCER AMERICA: What's your elevator pitch on what the Total Soccer Show is and why people should tune in.

DARYL GROVE: It is a daily soccer show where we offer genuine analysis of either games or the news. We don't just repeat to you the scoreline and say who did well. We figure out how they scored that goal and what went into it. We essentially try to offer something that no one else has noticed so that we always bring that added value to it. That sounds like it's very boring and academic, but because Taylor and I have known each other for so long and have an easy back-and-forth, I hope it's still presented in an entertaining way.

Daryl Grove (left) and Taylor Rockwell. Photo by Stephanie Dowda

SA: Let’s start from the beginning. How did the idea of the Total Soccer Show come to be?

DARYL GROVE: We started up in 2009, and the only podcasts we were aware of was The Guardian Football Weekly and Football Ramble. World Football Daily was on Sirius radio here and they used to put it out to podcasters.

What happened in Richmond, Virginia, was that WRIR, a public radio station — it's not NPR-affiliated it's just an independent public radio station — they were looking for shows. Taylor and I essentially pitched them the Total Soccer Show.

It was really really really good for us because they made us really plan out what the show would be. They gave us access to their equipment. We had access to proper microphones, Adobe Audition, mixing boards. They had someone teach us the basics on how to use everything.

SA: Back in 2009, were they apprehensive on having a radio show dedicated completely to soccer?

DARYL GROVE: They were concerned there wouldn't be enough content for a 27-minute episode each week. So we just has to lay out everything that goes on in the world of soccer and they were kind of like "OK, we get it."

SA: And when you guys first started was it world soccer or was it specifically American?

DARYL GROVE: It was U.S. national team-focused and it was just after the Confederations Cup [at which the USA beat Spain and finished runner-up to Brazil]. There was a lot of talk about the U.S. national team. Other big talking points were in the Premier League, and pretty much any other major issues in American soccer.

That kind of reflected our interest at the time. We've learned more about different leagues since, but we were starting with what we knew. What we knew the most was the men's national team.

SA: How did you first get into soccer journalism?

DARYL GROVE: My first proper job was that I was the editor for and It was just after I moved here and I applied to write for them. I stuck around for a while and eventually became the editor. It was essentially like how SB Nation has team blogs for every team. It was sort of the original version of that. I think SB Nation eventually bought the site. That was my start — blogging professionally and then managing some of those writers.

SA: How did you get to know your co-host, Taylor Rockwell?

DARYL GROVE: We played on the same soccer team together. There's a team called Richmond City FC, which is one of the better amateur club teams around here. I think we first got to really know each other because there was a tournament in Virginia Beach where you have seven games in two days. I got to know him really well then. We both listened to Football Weekly and we both had a bunch of shared interests which sort of gave us the idea that we should give a podcast a go as well.

Daryl Grove (center right) and Taylor Rockwell (far right) on tour with The Cooligans, Christian Polanco (left) and Alexis Guerreros, in Atlanta. Photo by Jon Tolbert

SA: And you said it used to be a weekly. It's a daily now, and twice a day sometimes. When did that happen?

DARYL GROVE: Yeah, during things like the World Cup, yeah we're doing it twice a day. Originally, it was prerecorded noon on Thursday and it was 27:30 long. And that was it.

We started to publish it as a podcast to see if anyone outside of Richmond would listen to it. A few people did to begin with, and then we added a second show and put that out as a podcast. With that second show we kind of realized we could make this our own thing. That's when we started to produce it independently.

The 2014 World Cup was a big changing point. Taylor was in Falls Church because his wife had moved up there, but we did it over Skype with microphones. We decided: everyday of the 2014 World Cup we'll record a review of the day's action and a preview of the next day's action.

I think we were the only show doing it and that's when things really took off. A lot of listeners found us during that World Cup. It helps when the U.S. was there and did reasonably well. A lot of people got into soccer, looked for a podcast, and then found us. We put the work in to figure in the tactical kind of stuff, so we found a nice little niche in the 2014 World Cup.

After that, Taylor started to make plans to move back to Richmond. When he finally did in 2015, that's when we rented some office and studio space. We were three days a week at that point. Once we were able to get advertisers we realized we could make some money and that's when we thought "OK, let's quit our other jobs and put all of our everything into this."

Once we got to the summer of 2016 with the Copa America Centenario and the Euros, we pitched some ads and had some ads come to us. We realized we basically had enough ads for every show even if we did a show every day.

That's when we realized that afterwards we can keep it up at five days a week because we have enough advertisers to make it financially viable.

SA: What's the time commitment been like for the last three years?

DARYL GROVE: Some days we'll go to the office and there's an obvious thing to talk about and we're already well versed in it just because we've been paying attention. Sometimes we'll show up and it's a two-hour day.

Most days we spend a lot of time researching or there are loads of games to watch, and it ends up being a 12-14 hour day. It really depends on what is happening in terms of how much time we spend in the office. The good news is that even when it's a 14-hour day it's stuff we love doing. We're not complaining about it, we're just really into what we're doing. It all kind of works out nicely.

SA: Tell me about the TopDrawerSoccer show. How did you conceive of that? How do you measure the demand for things like pay-to-play, college soccer — topics that are under the surface of most soccer headlines. Five years ago, most fans wouldn’t have a clue what these things are. Do you think the demand for them has gone up?

DARYL GROVE: It was more of a business thing. It was 2017 or so, and we essentially wanted to expand what we were doing to make more money. We pitched TopDrawerSoccer. We own Total Soccer Show, it's independent, and we can do whatever we want with it, but we came up with an idea which was: what if we pitch other places that would like to have a podcast but don't have the expertise or the resources?

For a fee, we can produce a podcast for you every week and TopDrawerSoccer was really receptive to it and what it could be. We sort of agreed on how we wanted it to sound and look. It was a different experience as well, because essentially we were working for someone else.

The reason I think the audience is there for it is that people are interested in the future, essentially. Everybody's always been interested in who's on the U-17 team, who's on the U-20 team.

We found this out in the [U.S. Soccer] elections of early 2018. People are fascinated in the structure of how American soccer works. There are a lot of problems with it, a lot of pros and cons to it. The whole arguments about the Development Academy and all that. In some ways it forced us to think about that stuff once a week instead of just occasionally on the Total Soccer Show. So it was really good to have a place to store that thinking.

SA: How have you seen the perception of the U.S. men’s senior team change through your years of coverage?

DARYL GROVE: It all goes to October 2017 when that happened. I think there are a lot of people then who are very 'burn it all down' kind of mood. Because I know a lot of people couldn't see the U.S. not making a World Cup. Maybe it's been that their whole life they didn't see it happen. That turns it into an unacceptable thing that happened. I don't think U.S. Soccer did a good enough job to get the fan back on their side.

I've really seen that relationship change from patriotic support, like getting behind the team no matter what, to maybe being mad at the U.S. team and certain players and even the coach, recently. Almost like they're proxies for the Federation. I'm not sure it's helpful to be mad at Gregg Berhalter after a couple of bad games. Because really you're mad at the Federation. It's hard to navigate that a little bit.

SA: Like how you have a lot of people clamoring for pro/rel who see it as the panacea to every problem this soccer country's ever had ...

DARYL GROVE:  Yeah. That's a really good example of the way people get very angry about things. There were some very thoughtful people campaigning for pro/rel and they were doing it in a way that moves the needle a little bit. But there's also a bunch of people who are essentially yelling into the void and at each other and harassing people.

SA: Who’s been the most memorable person on your show?

DARYL GROVE: I think, weirdly, it's [MLS analyst] Bobby Warshaw. He always has an unexpected take. He's definitely not the most famous player we've ever had or the highest-profile guy. But every time he gets on, he'll raise some weird thought experiment and it'll be so fascinating that we'll just want to dive into that.

I can't remember which game we were talking about, but we accidentally got into a discussion about flow state, which is the idea that you sort of are doing actions unconsciously because you're not overthinking it. And how that's the perfect zone for a soccer player to be in because you're not thinking "will I finish this chance" you just kind of do it.

I had that experience playing, where I wasn't second guessing myself or wasn't overthinking. Those are the times I've played really well. When he said it it really clicked with me that it's a real thing and that's probably the best way to play soccer.

SA: Tell us about your Street Soccer USA program involvement.

DARYL GROVE: It’s about improving peoples' lives through playing soccer, basically. They have teams in multiple cities and I've been involved since 2009. Eventually I pulled Taylor in to play with the team as a volunteer. In this last couple years, he's been the head coach because he has the most coaching experience.

The majority of our players are in substance-abuse recovery. One substance-abuse recovery center we work with is called the Healing Place. Once participants get to a certain point in the program, they can join our team and come and practice once a week and play with the team once a week.

It's been really fun working with some people who were college players who then had problems because they are so happy to get back into it. Some guys have never played soccer and do it so that they can run around a little bit. I've met a lot of people through that, people who are now friends who I probably wouldn't have met because our paths wouldn't have crossed.

I really, really enjoy it. We get to play in an amateur league here, in one of the lower divisions, and it really, really, means a lot more than an amateur team usually means. Because everybody is so committed and into it.

I started with it in 2009. Eventually I was sort of the only one left so I ended up being the program director. It really just means I'm the point of contact and organize it, essentially. There's no salary or anything like that.

SA: Would you mind talking about your cancer treatment and the amazing gofundme campaign?

DARYL GROVE: It was genuinely a source of happiness in a really tough time. There has been so much positivity over the past five months as a result of it. It's a lot to enjoy even though obviously it's not a good thing. I knew that people listened and liked the show, but it's almost like it was a lot more than expected.

The support and the positivity from people and the financial and emotional support and people reaching out, a lot of that was a lot more than I expected. It sort of reinforced the idea that I'm just really happy that we ended up doing the Total Soccer Show. Because it's been such a source of strength for me in a really tough time.

SA: For me I think about the sense of community within American soccer. It's not tight-knit physically, but it's a lot smaller than the NBA or the NFL. What it says to me is how it gets around fairly quickly around and how it's so cool to see that community come out in a positive way when other times it's usually so negative.

DARYL GROVE: Yeah, it's the exact opposite of something like Michael Bradley not playing for the national team or something like that. It's the exact opposite of that. It was just overwhelming positivity and everybody wanted to pitch in and do something. It was really inspiring.

Daryl Grove’s Top 5 soccer books
Brilliant Orange by David Winner
Anatomy of England by Jonathan Wilson
The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss
The Secret Footballer

Daryl Grove’s Top 5 soccer movies
Kicking and Screaming (2005)
Looking for Eric (2009)
The Damned United (2009)
Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
Escape to Victory (1981)

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