Steven Goff is the Soccer Correspondent of the Washington Post and considered by many to be the most influential soccer writer in the USA. With Sounders and his home town club DC United about to meet in the cup final, Prost Amerika asked him for his view on the big match.
PROST AMERIKA: Weâ€™ll kick off talking about the US Open Cup, and I saw on your site you refer to that many people call it a â€œMom and Popâ€ competition, an afterthought. So in your opinion, how important is this cup, and how important should it be?
STEVEN GOFF: Ideally it would be second in status behind the league competition, like it is perhaps in other countries, in Europe, but you know itâ€™s a small tournament. The lower level clubs in America for the most part do not have the facilities or the players to compete with the top level, so that certainly hurts the effort, and I donâ€™t think the soccer fans in America have embraced it yet. I think fans of smaller clubs do, and although the tournament has been in existence for almost 100 years it just never really has caught on. So I think its getting bigger and better but at the moment itâ€™s far behind league competition for clubs and itâ€™s certainly behind international tournaments that MLS teams and USL teams, for that matter, compete in every year.
PROST AMERIKA: What would it take to increase its profile?
STEVEN GOFF: I donâ€™t know, thatâ€™s a good question. Iâ€™m not sure what they can do. More promotion would certainly help, schedulingâ€”more coordination with the scheduling between MLS, USL and US Soccer Federation. Beyond that itâ€™s a mystery. I like the tournament a lot. I think it has some charms to it, and I like the idea of an event much like the NCAA basketball tournament where you have one game and the little guy can knock off the big guy in a competitive event. So I donâ€™t know if thereâ€™s any definitive answers of how to improve the perception of it.
PROST AMERIKA: To the cup final itself. What was your view of the very public spat between Kevin Payne and Adrian Hanauer over the bidding process?
STEVEN GOFF: [laughs] I think in the long run it worked out well for everyone because itâ€™s drawn a more intense spotlight on this game. I think thereâ€™s a real interest in both cities, and perhaps thereâ€™s a greater curiosity around the country among soccer supporters about the game now that these two gentlemen have gone public with their little spat. You know, I donâ€™t know, I can see points on both sides. Iâ€™m sure Seattle was frustrated that they didnâ€™t get the game but at the same time the fact that they were offering a Tuesday afternoon to play the game was kind of ridiculous.
PROST AMERIKA: Did you think that itâ€™s totally unseemly that a cup final should be played on a school day at one oâ€™clock?
STEVEN GOFF: Yeah, I mean itâ€™s a national championship game and if you want this tournament to continue to grow I think you have to create a time and a setting that really shows off the game and the sport. If Seattle had been able to offer a reasonable time then thereâ€™s no doubt in my mind they would have gained the hosting rights to the final.
PROST AMERIKA: Do you have reason to believe that Adrian Hanauerâ€™s bid was higher financially?
STEVEN GOFF: No, I have no idea. DC bid an awful lot of money for these home games. They have the past two years. They were embarrassed by lower level clubs before that and they are very serious about it. They do bid a lot of moneyâ€”I think they lose money on the Open Cup. Unfortunately thereâ€™s not much transparency to the bidding process and I think thatâ€™s the biggest problem here. We just donâ€™t know â€“ we donâ€™t know how much money Seattle put up, we donâ€™t know how much DC put up, and then you throw in the other factors: the starting time of the game, whether itâ€™s grass or artificial turf, you know, even the dayâ€”I mean Seattle couldnâ€™t even meet the requirements of the day. Rochester had a legitimate complaint because if Rochester had beaten DC they would have had to play at Seattle in the final and Rochester said, hey we abide by the rules and we were going to play on Wednesday, September 2nd. Yet the US Soccer Federation said oh itâ€™s OK for Seattle to play on Tuesday the first. So Rochester sides with DC in this in saying that hey DC and Rochester met the requirements to play on that specific day that was set aside by the USSF.
PROST AMERIKA: This didnâ€™t come out in the sense of injustice that was washing all over Seattle cybernets and this is why itâ€™s important that we get the other views. One more thing about the spat between Payne and Hanauer. As you said, it was good for the profile of the match. Do you think there was a certain element that it was pre-planned and they both knew exactly what they were doing?
STEVEN GOFF: I donâ€™t know, I think Adrian was frustrated and upset and I think Kevin was then upset with what Adrian said. At the same time I think what Kevin said served as a challenge and a rallying point for DC fans.
PROST AMERIKA: Will they respond?
STEVEN GOFF: Yeah I think theyâ€™ll respond more than last year. Last year DC played in the final, it was against a USL club. At the time DC was not in very good shape in the league table, people just werenâ€™t very enthusiastic about the club in general, and they drew 8200 fans, which for the US Open Cup is a good total. For DC and MLS obviously itâ€™s not. This year the fact that theyâ€™re playing an MLS team, the fact that theyâ€™re playing for a trophy, the fact that this little incident between owners went public â€“ yeah, I think all these factors put together I think DC will draw better than they normally would. How many fans? Itâ€™s hard to say, itâ€™s always difficult to predict a weekday game, itâ€™s a tough one. I donâ€™t know–15,000 Iâ€™m guessing, more than that. Itâ€™s hard on a Wednesday night.
PROST AMERIKA: There are said to be a couple of hundred traveling from here. What difference will that make to the atmosphere?
STEVEN GOFF: That would be great because RFK is a great place to watch a game. I mean, the place is a dump, but it certainly has its charms and contains the sound very well. Visiting fans have a good seat. They usually put them in the upper deck, but the upper deck here is almost hovering above the field so you really feel like youâ€™re in a European venue in a lot of ways, and New York fans come here regularly, Toronto fans, Chicago fans come here for games, and it adds to the environment, adds to the flavor. And I think with Seattle being a new team, a successful team and for the most part a very likeable team, I think itâ€™ll really create some great spirit for what we [laughs] obviously have called a Mom and Pop competition.
PROST AMERIKA: On that point you just made about for the most part, you called Sounders fans a likeable team. Have Sounders fansâ€™ somewhat bullish presence on the Internet been good for US soccer?
STEVEN GOFF: I donâ€™t know, I donâ€™t much about that, I donâ€™t follow that part of it too closely, but the fact that the team has been so well received, the atmosphere at Qwest Field, the general support of the team, and the community support of the team has been all positive and a huge boost for MLS. The only incident Iâ€™m really aware of when DC was there a plastic bottle was thrown toward the goalkeeper Josh Wicks, but DC didnâ€™t make much of that, they didnâ€™t really file a protest or anything so I donâ€™t think that was a very big issue, so itâ€™s hard for me to really comment on the other elements of the fan base.
PROST AMERIKA: How much will home advantage be an advantage to DC United?
STEVEN GOFF: I think it will because in this case theyâ€™ll be playing on grass and not on turf, and DC obviously had some problems with the turf in Seattle. DCâ€™s undefeated at RFK this year, not only in league play but they tied Firpo in champions league, and theyâ€™ve won all their Open Cup games at either RFK or at the Maryland Soccerplex, so out of their 16 competitive games overall at home this year they havenâ€™t lost any. So theyâ€™re very comfortable there, the fan support helps, and itâ€™s been a difficult place for visiting teams for the past 13 years.
PROST AMERIKA: Do you think DC will bring back some of their big guns for the final that have been largely absent in Open Cup play?
STEVEN GOFF: Oh absolutely, I mean this is big game, theyâ€™ve tested different players and formations, line-ups in the early rounds because they had to and it was an opportunity to test some of their reserves, but when youâ€™re playing for a championship you go all out. This is important to them once you reach the final, and whoeverâ€™s available, you know, based on injuries and other issues, I donâ€™t think youâ€™ll see any experimental line-ups of any type. This will be DC United at its fullest.
PROST AMERIKA: DC have a very very difficult schedule around that with trips to Chicago and Dallas. Do you think that will impact on who might be selected?
STEVEN GOFF: The Dallas game no, because thatâ€™s a few days later and theyâ€™re not going to worry about that until the day after the Open Cup. Chicago will have an impact because Chicagoâ€™s always a physical difficult game for DC and it will take its toll and perhaps Soehn plays around a little bit with his line-up in that game just to save a player or two, or to rest a player or two for the Open Cup. I think as that Open Cup game approaches, thatâ€™s the priority. You know, the league games are important of course but secondary to pursuing a trophy.
PROST AMERIKA: Are you expecting to see Freddie Ljungberg?
STEVEN GOFF: I donâ€™t know, you tell me.
PROST AMERIKA: He hasnâ€™t played in the Open Cup so far, and we call it here the Freddie Ljungberg question which gauges–migraines, hypoglycemia and suspensions permitting–how seriously Sounders are taking a game. I think most people here are expecting to see him.
STEVEN GOFF: Yeah, I mean, like I said thereâ€™s a trophy at stake, thereâ€™s some money at stake, and of course a tentative berth in international play next year in Champions League. So, you know, this is a big deal for both clubs and certainly for Seattle in their first year, to win the Open Cup would be a very big deal. DC has a lot of pride on the line, and as defending champions they certainly want a repeat.
PROST AMERIKA: On the subject of Freddie. and of course Kasey Keller here has big cup final experience but not many of the others. How will DCâ€™s players having cup final experience be an advantage?
STEVEN GOFF: Good question. Yeah I think it will help them, I mean, theyâ€™ve been in this situation last year, they know what to expect, but at the end of the day the opponent is an MLS team, the venue is a regular MLS venue, you know the game will have to go into overtime and PKs if necessary so thatâ€™s an issue, but I donâ€™t think it will be that much different for the players during the game than it would be for a league match.
PROST AMERIKA: Final question: a great man called Jock Stein once said that only a fool would make a prediction about the cup final. Iâ€™m predicting that youâ€™re great enough not to make one. Am I correct?
STEVEN GOFF: [laughs] I would never make a (stops to think). Whenever anyone asks me about game predictions, no matter what the competition, I always pick the easy way out and say a 1-1 tie and in this case a 1-1 tie means overtime and PKs and I donâ€™t know, if it went to PKs, I think because of Kellerâ€™s experience overseas that Seattle would have the advantage, so weâ€™ll see how it goes.
PROST AMERIKA: So there you have it. Mr. Goff says Seattle to win on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie.
STEVEN GOFF: [laughs] No, Iâ€™ll just say that if it goes to penalty kicks that Seattle will probably win because of Senor Keller.