It’s been exactly a year since Grant Wahl was taken from us, so the timing of his posthumous Paramount+ project, The Billion Dollar Goal, which debuts tonight, could not resonate more strongly with fans of U.S. soccer. That goes double for me, because this docuseries covers much the same ground showcased in my July 2022 book, Generation Zero: Founding Fathers, Hidden Histories & The Making of American Soccer. Grant was one of GZ’s first readers and in many ways its champion.

I was not involved in this new television production, not so far as I know (!). But I got to know Grant pretty well, upon publication of Generation Zero, and the Dean of American Soccer Writing made no secret of his interest in this subject matter. I did his podcast in late October 2022 (skip to 38:00, unless you want a rehash of Greg Berhalter’s newly released World Cup roster). In framing the book discussion to come, Grant repeated what he had said to me the month before, upon completing my book:

“There hasn’t been much written about this dark era between 1950 and 1990, at all. When I look at what you’ve done with this subject here, I’m surprised that there has not been more that’s been done in this area. I just want to say thank you for doing this because this is the stuff I’ve been craving and have been aware of through the years — but not at this level of detail. It’s such a good read. A really fun read… Lots to talk about, but one thing I loved about your book, you’re guided by a central question: How did soccer in the U.S. go from being stigmatized in the 1980s and before, to what it is now — a cool sport followed by young people with a big future here?”

I’m speculating, but the subject of Billion Dollar Goal surely punctuates the question Grant posed above. The Nov. 1989 victory over Trinidad & Tobago altered and turbocharged the trajectory of soccer in the United States. That particular USMNT, that unlikely victory, enabled everything that came afterward, including all those billions, Major League Soccer, the mature futbol culture we enjoy today, and the 1994 World Cup (in ways that might surprise you). That’s why I called the book Generation Zero. Everything truly did start with them.

Yet I’m less certain BDG will delve into the when and why, because THAT story of Generation Zero started 20 years prior to Port of Spain. As I explain in the book, and on Grant’s podcast, each of the players on this fateful USMNT had been born in the 1960s, then raised on soccer during the youth soccer boom of the 1970s. As such, these were the first true futbol natives produced by this country, en masse, and the same can be said of the U.S. Women’s National Team that, oh by the way, won the very first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991.

Those national teams were different because these were the first American kids to be raised on the beautiful game. Proverbs 6:22 got it right: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” There was no Little League for soccer, in this country, before the 1970s. With that infrastructure finally in place, it was just a matter of time.

I don’t want to overplay the relationship Grant and I developed over such a brief stretch of time. We never even met face to face! When Generation Zero was poised for release, Grant and I were introduced by our mutual friend, the author, academic and futbol scholar Andrei Markovits. Grant kindly requested an advance copy. All during August and September, he checked in with enthusiastic email/text feedback. This was just a couple months ahead of the World Cup. He had recently launched his own Substack site; no longer tethered to (or paid by) a soccer publication per se, he was generating content at a frenzied pace, from all over the map. The dude was flat out.

Still, beyond the pod and his direct feedback, he found time to truly champion my work — in ways I could never repay. Certainly not in light of his untimely death… We stayed in touch. I even got a few insider reports from Qatar, including a few veiled-but-still-juicy bits re. the Reyna-Berhalter Family BBQ. Then he was gone.

It’s a terrible thing to reckon, but the business of living stops for no one. In the last year, Berhalter somehow got himself fired, then re-hired. The Columbus Crew won yet another MLS Cup without him. Generation Zero is no longer a plucky sales sensation, though its quality and sales performance did net me a new, way-better book deal (with Rowman & Littlefield). More on that next project here, in the months to come. As 2024 approaches, we are gearing up for Olympic tournaments, the Copa America. My son’s getting married in June.

I have every intention of renewing my PP sub and tuning in tonight. Thereafter, I may have more to say on the matter. Meantime, I wish the producers of Billion Dollar Goal every success, and Grant’s widow an ever-growing measure of peace and closure.