The Total Soccer Show podcast, which recently aired its 1,000th episode, was started by Taylor Rockwell with Daryl Grove, who passed away two years ago this week after a battle with colon cancer. "In a lot of ways, he was and still is the soul of the show," says Rockwell.
Rockwell has since been joined by Joseph Lowery, Ryan Bailey and Graham Ruthven to host and produce a show that releases five to seven episodes a week.
SOCCER AMERICA: What is your elevator pitch for the Total Soccer Show?
TAYLOR ROCKWELL: The Total Soccer Show is a U.S.-based soccer podcast that covers all things U.S. soccer and international soccer from an angle of wanting to understand why a thing happened. We're less interested in hot takes and talking heads and more into trying to understand what happened.
The example I always point to is this: It was either a World Cup or a Euros, and a Turkish player lost his mark, who scored. The narrative was that he was fixing his hair — the talking point was, 'Oh my god, can you believe this guy, he's fixing his head instead of marking.' And then it turned into a 'this is what's wrong with soccer' — people care more about their hair than their mark.
So when we rewatched it from a different angle, his teammate had turned around to tell somebody to mark somebody, and accidentally poked him in the eye. Right when that happened, the corner was taken.
It's moments like that where I think it's easy to just say, 'that was dumb!' I'm more interested in why a thing happened.
SA: Adam Belz from Scuffed said that there is a direct relationship between the performance of the U.S men's national and his subscriber base. When the team is good, business is good. When the team is bad, not so much. Is that the case for The Total Soccer Show as well?
TAYLOR ROCKWELL: That's pretty accurate. We always see a larger download number when the national team does well. Especially if they're playing in a major tournament. The U.S. men doing something successfully at a World Cup — I would guess all of our top shows are after something like that happened.
There's also a spike when things go unexpectedly wrong. When there's a performance that doesn't make sense, people want to know how much stock should they put in it — like, 'Should I be panicking?' But these last two friendlies — we did normal numbers but people were frustrated and confused by those.
When games are demonstrably poor, I think people are happy to turn it off in the 60th minute and forget it ever happened until the next game.
SA: There's a lot riding on people in the soccer industry at the World Cup in Qatar, then?
Yeah, we said that when they failed to qualify [in 2017 for the 2018 World Cup in Russia]. As cynical as it was, we knew there would be significantly less interest in the World Cup over here in the States because the U.S. wasn't in it. Those that tune in casually weren't going to watch.
For me it was the thing of, 'Maybe we'll make less money!' But I was talking Paul Tenorio from The Athletic this week and he got laid off from FourFourTwo [the monthly English soccer magazine that invested heavily in a U.S.-focused web site but quickly folded it] when the U.S. failed to qualify.
SA: After we failed to qualify, some people also started following soccer a lot more closely — the USSF presidential elections, for example.
TAYLOR ROCKWELL: That was weird times. Being there when they made their speeches, they clearly weren't used to that — people caring about their speeches, the democratic process, like that. They weren't even sure if they were going to have a podium for speeches and if there was going to be a Q&A or a roundtable. They were used to just not that much interest. And that time, lots of people wanted to know what was happening and what was changing.
SA: Talk about a bit about the evolution of the Total Soccer Show since Daryl Grove passed away?
TAYLOR ROCKWELL: Daryl and I started the show in 2009. We made it a full-time thing in 2015 when I moved back to Richmond. We have an office space now where we record five, six or even seven days a week. When his sickness started to get worse, that's when the pandemic happened, and we felt like it wasn't the best idea to be sitting across from each other and loudly talking at each other's faces.
So it meant that I saw him only two or three times in March of 2020 when he eventually passed. Along that time, he was going up to Boston every other week for treatment. It took a lot out of him — he basically didn't have the strength to do weekend review and watch all those games. That's when Ryan joined the show.
It felt like a lot for two people to do remotely so Graham hopped on. It was basically people we had existing relationships with to varying degrees.
Daryl passed away in late October of 2020. For as long as we knew he was sick, it was still fairly sudden and maybe something he didn't love talking about so much. So two weeks before he passed away, he was going to take over the show for a month when I was going to do paternity leave — my wife gave birth to our daughter that December.
There were a lot of plans that suddenly weren't there. To lose my best friend and also my podcast partner was a double whammy. There was a minute when I thought, 'I don't know if this is a thing I can keep going — let alone if people want it to keep going.' Because I do think Daryl in a lot of ways was and still is the soul of the show. He brought a really necessary balance and empathy to it. And that's a thing that I really try and think about when we're doing our shows. He's still the guiding principle of the show.
Daryl Grove (left) and Taylor Rockwell. Photo by Stephanie Dowda
SA: Were you close to shutting the podcast down for good?
TAYLOR ROCKWELL: That never really entered my head to stop doing it. Daryl wanted the show to keep going. His mom came over to be with him for the last couple days. She was a big tennis fan — she did know her son had a semi-popular soccer podcast. She was watching tennis on Fubo, the streaming service, and we had just done an interview with The Cooligans on that.
So promos for that kept popping up and she was able to watch that. Moments like that — she got to see what he had done. And that's representative of the pride he had in the show and how it had grown and what it was — ideally, a source of positivity and information.
I didn't want to be like, 'All right, that's done.' At the same time, if Butch Cassidy isn't around, do people want to watch the Sundance Kid movie?
It was a hope that people kept on listening. It won't ever be the same show — I spent more time with him than my wife — but what you can try to do is carry on that energy and belief.
SA: One of the newer additions to the show?
TAYLOR ROCKWELL: One of my favorite new things that we're doing is a weekly show called "The Big Thing." We found it was difficult to find time for a topic that we hadn't gotten to in the week. One week we had the weekend review and all of those games, the Americans abroad, the listener questions, Champions League midweek, and Allocation Disorder [Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio's podcast] in the feed — so there's your five shows.
But that was when Newcastle was acquired by the Saudi Wealth Fund and we didn't get an opportunity to talk about it for, like, five days. So we created a space where we could talk about that one big story.
SA: World Cup Live show? Have you done that before?
TAYLOR ROCKWELL: Not in this version. Daryl and I did a World Cup comedy tour with the Cooligans. That was eight cities. With this one, the four of us have never been in person with each other and me, Ryan and Joe have never met Graham in person. I'm not sure if Ryan and Joe have never met each other.
SA: Has the way you watched soccer games changed over the years? How do you analyze players today compared to how you did, say, five years ago?
TAYLOR ROCKWELL: When I first started out, I was much more into the big moment — I wrote a piece for The Offside way back when that was about Roy Keane's best worst tackles — including the one that almost ended Erling Haaland's father's career. I was more, like, edgy in that stupid sort of way.
It evolved into wanting to know why a thing happened.
As cliche as it may be, since having a kid I'm much more interested in coaching and the way managers interact with players from very different backgrounds. Carlo Ancelotti — I don't even know how old he is [the Real Madrid coach is 63 years old] but he is able to find commonality and shared experiences with 18-year-olds that are clearly not from the same background.
I don't know if it was David Alaba or Antonio Rudiger who talked about Ancelotti showing up to a barbecue at one of their houses, bringing stuff and hanging out with the kids. The human relationships and how that can impact your ability to perform. I think that's really fascinating.
I talk about this a lot when it comes to the U.S. national team. When you say, 'Paul Arriola isn't good enough' — that's a fair argument if you think he's not bringing something. But I think that the level of anger people feel that he hasn't been dropped yet — man, those [players] are kids! And [Berhalter] has coached for years. If he were able to just say, 'Sorry man, you're not good enough, see ya'? I had coaches like that. I hated them.
SA: What’s your take on the U.S. striker situation? Who is your striker for this World Cup?
TAYLOR ROCKWELL: Does anyone have a striker for Qatar? This goes back to conversations between me and Daryl. You can have a conversation about who should be on the roster and who should be starting. That's a fine conversation. But to some extent in my line, it's not useful if you're not looking at what the coach is actually going to do. If you're saying it should be this way with this or that guy, and it's someone who's never been called in, you're setting yourself up to be pissed off. Because they're not going to be.
Our roster projections are 70% what we think Berhalter will do and 30% what we would like him to do. Because that's the best way to understand the team while also having your own beliefs. With that in mind, I guess it's Jesus Ferreira, because he does the most off of the ball that Berhalter wants to facilitate the attack. I'm of the opinion that Tim Weah coming back is one of the most important things for the attack. He's a vertical threat and on the counter. He makes defenses back off a couple yards — you put him in there and I wonder if that offense clicks up to that next level with Jesus Ferreira starting.
I really like that Josh Sargent has stuck with Norwich City, gone to the Championship and continues to score goals. He seems like a rejuvenated player.
SA: Something you would change about soccer officiating if you could?
TAYLOR ROCKWELL: I want throw-ins to be taken where the ball goes out. Once you notice it, it will drive you insane. The ball will go out and they will walk the ball up 25 yards. There's a theatricality to it — they know what they're doing with the pump fake. The referee will say, 'Oh yeah, he did try to throw it, he did try it.'