Steven “Steve” Goff knew from the very start that he wanted to be a sports writer.
“Well before high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” he said. “This was it.”
By the time he was 10 years old, the Keene native and future Washington Post reporter had begun his own publication he called Sports Profile, writing up the latest news in sports and handing out copies to relatives and neighbors for a whopping five cents apiece.
“Circulation was booming,” Goff joked.
His mother, Cecile, lives in Westmoreland. She remembers typing up and mimeographing her son’s handwritten notes, which featured a mix of national and local news, box scores and “comments by the editor.”
“He’d walk around the neighborhood selling it,” Cecile recalled. “Most people bought it, but I remember one neighbor didn’t want to spend the five cents.”
From those humble beginnings, Goff, 52, has carved out his own specialized niche in the sprawling world of sports journalism, covering professional soccer for The Washington Post for more than two decades.
While he has lived in the Washington metro area since college, he cut his teeth in the Monadnock Region, covering local sports for The Sentinel while attending Keene High School.
In a phone interview, he recalled the evening drives to places like Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon and Conant High School in Jaffrey, reporting on local basketball games in the dead of winter.
“A lot of times, I’d drive halfway across the state and have to be back for school the next day,” Goff said of the many away games he covered. “I’d often write those stories in the newsroom early in the morning.”
Goff grew up reading big-name sports writers in The Boston Globe, such as Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy. As he was mulling his options for college, he wrote a letter to Shaughnessy asking for career advice. He got a phone call in return.
“He said to go to a city, to get into a newsroom somewhere and get some experience,” Goff said.
That advice provided a game plan to which Goff conscientiously adhered. While studying journalism at American University in Washington, D.C., he wrote for the student paper, The Eagle, and started taking freelance assignments at the Post.
The Post’s sports desk then covered about 150 high schools in and around the District of Columbia, according to Goff. The demand for writers often outweighed the number of full-time staffers, he said.
“It was a great place to learn and gain opportunities that aren’t readily available at most major daily papers,” Goff said.
Once he landed a full-time job at the Post, his early responsibilities included typing up box scores. He also provided additional coverage for college basketball games and wrote about indoor lacrosse.
“Any chance I got to write, I would jump at it.”
In the summer of 1992, he took a six-week break from the Post to work for NBC Sports at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
“I was one of those guys you would see working on computers behind Bob Costas,” he joked.
Some of his colleagues in Barcelona went on to become notable sports writers, Goff said, including Christopher Clarey and Jeremy Schaap, who work for The New York Times and ESPN, respectively.
Looking back on that summer, Goff recalled an American victory in the men’s 400-meter relay, thanks in part to a stellar performance by famed track and field athlete Carl Lewis.
The 1992 Olympics also featured the U.S. men’s basketball “Dream Team,” which included superstars Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
“It was just an amazing experience,” Goff said.
Upon returning to the Post, he split his time between the copy desk and freelance assignments, writing about college soccer, among other sports.
While covering the George Washington University men’s basketball team, Goff met his future wife, Karen, who was writing for The Washington Times.
Goff dismissed the notion that there might have been any tension between the two reporters in those days, despite an ostensible rivalry between their respective papers.
“There’s always that competitive streak, but this was a smaller beat,” he said. “It wasn’t like we were going head-to-head on the Redskins.”
The two married in 1994, shortly before that year’s FIFA World Cup, which was held in several locations throughout the United States. Their honeymoon had to wait until after the tournament.
Goff said the 1994 World Cup signaled a profound shift in his career, contributing to what he described as a surge of American interest in soccer.
“That World Cup changed everything for me,” he said. “The sport was starting to really create a foundation for the future.”
In 1996, Major League Soccer launched with 10 teams throughout the country — including D.C. United in Washington.
While Goff continued his work as an editor, he started covering the team, which won three of the league’s first four championships.
“Attendance grew, and the popularity of the team grew,” Goff said. “It became clear that we needed someone writing about soccer all the time.”
The assignments began to pile up. As Goff tells it, he’d disappear from the editing desk for weeks at a stretch to cover World Cup matches in places like France and South Korea.
Eventually it became apparent that the arrangement was no longer tenable. He started covering soccer full-time in 2006, shortly before the start of that year’s World Cup in Germany.
Over the course of his career, Goff has visited about two dozen countries, from Cuba to South Africa. He’s covered seven men’s World Cups and four women’s World Cups, as well as 19 Major League Soccer championships.
He said the most remarkable stadium he’s visited is Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Ayma, the former home of Costa Rica’s national team.
Fans in San Jose have nicknamed the stadium “la cueva del monstruo” — the monster’s cave — because of the deafening noise and intensity that make it such a difficult venue for visiting teams, according to Goff.
“It really was like stepping into a monster’s cave,” he said. “The crowd’s right on top of the field. That sound and fury would just envelop the whole place.”
Goff also recalled a match at what he described as a little outpost a couple of hours outside Guatemala City.
“That’s a life experience you don’t have very often,” he said.
Asked about soccer’s global appeal, Goff said the sport has a transcendent quality that embraces so much more than rivalries based on simple geography.
“It’s a unique, fascinating sport that has a world stage,” he explained. “It integrates culture and politics and religion.”
As an example, he noted that the Celtic Football Club in Glasgow, Scotland, is typically seen as the Catholic team in that city, while the rival Rangers are viewed as the Protestant club.
Goff’s mother said that interest in digging deeper than scores and statistics was present in some of her son’s earliest writings, citing features he wrote for The Sentinel as a teenager.
Cecile follows his blog, Soccer Insider, which she credits with enhancing her appreciation of the sport and what it means to people around the world.
“He usually tries to get interested in the culture and what life is like for people in the places he visits,” she said. “He’ll go to Cuba and walk into some little restaurant and just start talking to people.”
Goff launched Soccer Insider in early 2007 to augment the paper’s coverage of the sport.
“With so many sports going on, there was only so much space for soccer,” he said. “It’s hard to compete with the Redskins.”
Goff said the shift from print to digital has opened up a host of possibilities for engaging with readers, describing a give-and-take in comment sections and on social media platforms.
“There’s more interaction,” he said. “A lot of times I’m writing in a different voice. I think there’s a more formal voice for print, whereas it’s more conversational online.”
Goff lives in Reston, Va., but tries to make it back to the Monadnock Region once or twice a year.
“You don’t appreciate how great it is while you’re still growing up,” he said of Keene. “It’s just this idyllic childhood with all this natural beauty and opportunities to grow and explore. Every time I go back, I appreciate it more so than ever.”
Still, he doesn’t miss the winters.
“That part of it I could leave behind,” Goff said. “For sure.”