Broadcaster Dave Johnson has been involved in soccer for more than 15 years, calling games for the Baltimore Blast, Maryland Bays and D.C. United. For many, he is the voice and face of the sport in this region. Tonight Johnson, 40, begins his ninth year as United's play-by-play man when the club plays host to the Columbus Crew in a game to be shown live on Comcast SportsNet. Johnson, who also is the voice of the Washington Wizards and a WTOP-AM sportscaster, sat down recently with The Washington Times.
Q: Did you have an 'aha!' moment that converted you to soccer?
A: I grew up in the Pele generation as a fan of the North American Soccer League, watching the Washington Diplomats, and if there was an "aha!" moment, it was in the summer of 1980 watching Johan Cruyff. I still have vivid memories of that season, how the Diplomats were robbed by the [New York] Cosmos on an offside call. Even though the Diplomats went away, soccer is a game that seduces you. There's the global aspect.
Q: There are a lot of sports commentators out there, but you are one of the few who likes soccer. Why?
A: For me it's a true passion, and part of it stems from the failure of the Diplomats -- my sadness and frustration at that.
Q: In your profession, why are there so many soccer-bashers in the media?
A: It seems to some extent people go out of their way to make fun of soccer, and that's when you think, "Come on, that's beneath you as a writer to make jokes about it being low-scoring -- ha ha, as if that's some great revelation."
Q: Does the whole Freddy Adu phenomenon surprise you?
A: Every step of the way it has surprised me. I never thought an outdoor league would have a chance again in this country. I thought indoor soccer would be the way forward and that's what this country would be known for in terms of soccer, with pyrotechnics and rock and roll. But then the 1994 World Cup went beyond expectations. The start of Major League Soccer went beyond expectations. Freddy Adu is just another chapter.
Q: Do you have a fondness for soccer over other sports?
A: I didn't grow up with soccer until late. It was a developing passion. I always loved basketball. I grew up as a big Washington Bullets fan, so now doing the Wizards I'm living a dream.
Q: Is it an ambition of yours to cover a World Cup?
A: I would love to get a shot at doing the national team games. I've gotten support from people like [U.S. team coach] Bruce Arena, but he is not the guy who makes television decisions.
Q: You saw D.C. United in its glory days. What happened to this team?
A: United is going through a longer change period than some teams do. This team has been going through a more gradual process because you had some very special players here. It's a team that found it difficult to make the transition to develop young players at the same time while trying to make the playoffs. It's going to be difficult, even with Freddy Adu.
Q: What bugs you about MLS?
A: I'm happy there is no overtime and that there are ties. I would be OK with just one division of 10 teams and you play everyone four times. MLS has done so many things right in terms of making tough decisions when they had to contract two teams. We have soccer stadiums being built. That's a powerful sign, when you have people putting concrete into the ground. That's a sign the league is not going away.
Q: What game remains most vivid from your days covering United?
A: I always remember the 1997 MLS Cup in the rain. The stadium was brimming with fans, the atmosphere. It was almost like an English soccer day.
Q: Your favorite player?
A: Marco Etcheverry. I always remember watching him practice free kicks, bending a ball around a wall and scoring goals like he was taking free throws.
Q: Can the U.S. team win the World Cup and when?
A: By 2010, we could be so battle-tested at the international level. We could shock the world.
Q: What's your favorite club internationally.
A: I keep an eye on Barnet in England's Nationwide Conference because any club that can play at a stadium where the field is sloped, I have to root for them. I don't go for the glamour clubs, I go for the underdogs, so maybe that's why I pull for soccer in this country -- it's an underdog.
Q: How did your trademark call of "It's in the net!" come about?
A: It was something that came from indoor soccer when I covered the Blast. It comes naturally. Some people say, "You've scripted that," but it's no more than someone scripts "Goal!" or "He shoots!"