My next guest on "Straight from the Source" is one of the best in American soccer journalism. Grant Wahl has covered eight World Cups, and has traveled around the globe covering the biggest names of the beautiful game. We spoke about the start of his career, and why his professional relationship with head coach Bob Bradley helped shape it back in college. Grant also told us the story about his scary run-in while working a story in Honduras. Of course we chopped it up about the US men's national team and their fight to qualify for next year's World Cup, and the work it's taken to get there after failing to qualify in 2018.
Here's a quick snippet of my chat with Grant Wahl:
Stefano: This is the second episode of "Straight from the Source", and we got another high quality guest with us today. He's one of the premier soccer journalists in the country, for 24 plus years.. 24 plus years at Sports Illustrated? Am I right?
Grant: Yeah, I got to 25 in the end because I was still writing through this August. Yeah.
Stefano: He's also been on Fox Sports TV. He currently hosts "Futbol with Grant Wahl" his wildly successful podcast is now under the Meadowlark media umbrella company run by Dan Lebatard former ESPN president John Skipper. He's on Substack still producing top quality soccer journalism and of course, a contributor for CBS Sports in their soccer coverage. My man Grant Wahl. Grant, thanks for joining me.
Grant: Yeah, great to be here with you, Stefano.
Stefano: It's funny, I kind of got to do this whole intro and say all of the things that you're currently doing, and I feel like, now I have to name like four or five jobs for everybody that I'm speak to, because it's kind of where we're living now. Right?
Grant: Welcome to the gig economy, my friend. Everyone's doing that, to some extent. It seems like, and you know, actually I like the freedom of it. I've been doing it to an extent for a while. I've written a couple of books, doing TV, podcast, writing; it's just the way the media landscape is at this point. That's something I'm glad that I'm able to to work in different formats. You know, I was only a writer for a long time. And so to have the chance to do podcasts and TV and all sorts of stuff is really fun.
Stefano: Yeah, I mean, you gotta have multiple hats nowadays. We move on, because I'm wearing the appropriate shirt today. Of course, Grant, you are in Columbus, Ohio, you just finished covering yet another World Cup qualifying window, for the US men's national team. They capped it off with a two one win over Costa Rica, with a little bit of drama. They had to make it interesting early on. But they win and remain three points back of Mexico for first place in the octagonal. It's been kind of just a wild summer all around and now leading into fall for the US men's national team. How different is your job now, in comparison to what you did for so many years ago now, in this era of US Soccer and doing so many different jobs as well to create content for soccer in this country.
Grant: You know, what's been interesting for me is in starting my Substack site in August, and sort of harkening back to what I did at the start of my Sports Illustrated career in the sense that back in those days, we would still have the print magazine every week coming out Thursday. And because our website wasn't that well developed when I started in the late 90's, early 2000's...we would still cover games, big games on a Saturday or Sunday and write a story that would come in your print Sports Illustrated four days later on a Thursday. And so that changed in the early 2000's because of that four day lag time, and they decided, because now there's the internet and people are getting stuff more quickly. I've always felt is that the quality of those stories wasn't the reason that Sports Illustrated stop doing big game stories for the print magazine, it was the lag time. So what if I approached in a similar way, these US World Cup qualifiers in which I would write stuff, I would do deep reporting ahead of the game, and even write maybe 1000 words before the game that would still be interesting after the game for the middle of the story. And then after the game, write a top and a bottom and have one nice magazine story and the quality I think people still want and now you can get it at 9am Eastern the next morning instead of having to wait four days. And I think people will pay for that. That's my hope at least with this with my Substack site. The response has been really good so far. And it's a challenge because I'm doing this off of every US World Cup qualifier. So three games in a week. I'm basically pulling an all-nighters. Like you're catching me in real time right now. I just did this. And it makes me feel like the early part of my career to an extent. It's almost like going back in time now. I'm also adding all the other gigs. So I did pre and post game reports for CBS last night. (Wednesday) I had a podcast we're doing podcasts with Landon Donovan and Chris Wittyngham, our good friend, after every USA game. That's been a blast because those guys are sharp and Landon brings obviously such experience in everything he's done in his career. So yeah, we recorded that after I got back to my hotel last night and then I stayed up all night writing I'm still doing my free thoughts at the final whistle you know. Like, it's constant, but I still want all of it to be about quality. Because as I was putting together what I'm doing moving forward in my career, I don't want to be on the hamster wheel just churning out content for clicks. That's why I'm glad to be associated with a subscription site. And so far so good. As long as I can recover from nights like this, I'll be okay.
Stefano: Yeah, I guess you got to kind of turning back the clock a little bit as far as you know, staying up all night, pulling all-nighters to be able to get the content out. But anybody who's followed your work has seen the quality and you become one of the most respected soccer, not just journalists, but voices in this country and it's just interesting to me because you're born in Bishop, Kansas. It's not exactly the town that screams soccer hotbed. When and where did your passion for the game really begin?
Grant: I mean, I played as a kid, like so many other people. Then I got to high school in Kansas City and chose other sports. I was just better at, basketball, track and field, cross country, those things. But I still loved soccer. I actually grew up watching indoor soccer and going to Kansas City Comets games in the early to mid 80s. And that was a big deal in Kansas City. Like they would fill up Kemper arena, and then they had the laser light show and I love that stuff. But the first outdoor soccer I got into watching was the 1990 World Cup. You know, it was the first time the US qualified for the World Cup on the men's side since 1950. And I really got into it watched almost every game. It was in Spanish because we didn't have cable TV in our house. And I think TNT had it in English. So I watched Andres Cantor, and Norberto Longo do almost every game, I think, in the 90 World Cup for Univision. Just great memories of that. And then, two years after that, I went to Princeton, and I covered the men's soccer team for the school paper. Of course that team was coached by Bob Bradley. He treated me like a professional journalist, even though I wasn't and even though I had a lot to learn, and I really appreciated just the respected that. He gave me as a student journalist way back in the day and it's interesting how you make these connections early on in your career that can have a big influence on things. I'm obviously still talkng to Bob Bradley, so many years later. Yeah, and like one of his players was Jesse Marsh, and I became friends with Jesse. We actually spent time in the health center, we both got sick one year and college and got to know each other even better. And you know, I'm traveling to Leipzig in August to write a big story on Jesse Marsch, who has now ascended higher I would say than any American coach in European soccer.