Monday night's match has been over for forty-five minutes. The pitch has been cleared, the press conferences have ended, and almost all of the fans have headed out to enjoy the rest of their Fourth of July evening. Outside the entrance to the locker room, there are close to one hundred people still standing around, waiting patiently. Some are children, holding posters in the hopes that their hero will sign them and give them a hug before he disappears into the locker room, from which almost all of his teammates have already departed. Some are adults, men and women both, who want to shake the man's hand and maybe get one final photo taken with him before he leaves town.
A few are stragglers, drawn to this amazing scene--including a security guard who tells me, "I could lose my job if I asked him for an autograph, but I'm tempted to do it." Then, you have his wife and family. Standing to the side, then finally sitting because it's obvious he isn't going to be leaving anytime soon, his wife looks on with pride and amusement, smiling every couple of minutes as she sees him lean down to hug a child who is excited, or the child who gave him a going-away gift.
A few times, it looks like he's done, as he stands up straight, feet turning towards the locker room and he opens his mouth to say, "That's all." Until another child steps up, another parent asks, "Can we get a photo with you?". Without a single hesitation, he's right back at it, leaning down to welcome in a child whose name he doesn't know, whose night he is making even brighter. Despite having a lengthy drive from Louisville to Boston ahead of him the next day, and despite the nonstop schedule he has kept the previous few days, one thing becomes increasingly clear.
Scott Goodwin isn't going to enter that locker room anytime soon, not until every single person standing there leaves with one final moment with him. Everything else can wait.
And I'm not surprised one bit.
After the city of Louisville obtained its USL franchise in the summer of 2014, the front office quickly got to work. Their managerial decision was an easy one, as James O'Connor joined the club from Orlando City, where he had spent the previous season as player-manager. Their roster began to take shape, as players like Matt Fondy and Bryan Burke were signed. Yet, with less than a month to go before the opening kickoff of the season, O'Connor had yet to sign a goalkeeper. When asked, he said repeatedly that he had a particular person in mind, the "right person", and he was confident he would get his man. He was right,. "We had to be patient, but we wanted a keeper who matched every piece of criteria that we were looking for," O'Connor said after the signing of Goodwin was made official. "We found that with Scott."
In terms of a resume, you couldn't have asked for more in a goalkeeper at this level. In his four years at the University of North Carolina, he won four Atlantic Coast Conference season titles, as well as the 2011 ACC Tournament. Maybe more importantly, Goodwin also won the 2011 NCAA Men's Division 1 crown. Throw in a pair of ESPN Academic All-American selections, as well as Capital One Academic All-American first and second team nods, and you had a netminder who not only knew how to win, but was cerebral while doing it. He proved that by earning a biology degree, with minors in the fields of chemistry and mathematics, in just three and a half years, while posting a perfect 4.0 GPA in three different semesters. However, his stats proved to be quite impressive as well: a 16-3-3 record, along with a 0.293 goals against average and a save percentage of .865, in his senior season at UNC, while setting the school record with seventeen shutouts on the year.
After college, Goodwin played for a season in Iceland, before signing with the Carolina Railhawks of the NASL, where he played for one season, including a US Open Cup appearance against Chivas USA. Despite being the underdogs, the Railhawks pulled off the upset, knocking Chivas out on penalty kicks, with Goodwin stopping a shot in the seventh round to help lead them to victory. Performances such as that led O'Connor to keep tabs on him, and focus on making him the first keeper in club history.
That's not to say there weren't growing pains in the first few months in Louisville. A string of heavy snowstorms stunted the team's ability to train. As such, the first month or so saw the defense struggle to keep clean sheets. However, you could see early on that Goodwin was comfortable being the field general. His defenders grew in confidence as he commanded them, and it wasn't long before they playfully bestowed upon him the nickname "Dad". When the season was over, Goodwin was second in the league in goals-against average, and Louisville City would finish second in the Eastern Conference in their inaugural season. They would see their season end with a 1-0 loss to Rochester, who went on to win the title. While some big names would depart from the club--namely Fondy and Burke, both highly popular players, who joined the Jacksonville Armada in the NASL--the man whose name the fans sang every time he made a save was going to be the starter for at least one more season...or so everyone thought.
It was just a simple red card, shown to Goodwin after he took down a striker in a race for a loose ball in the box. It was the right call, and he left the sixth league match of the season, replaced by backup Greg Ranjitsingh. Nobody would have ever guessed at that moment that it would be the final time he started a USL match for Louisville City. A string of four straight league shutouts followed for Ranjitsingh, and it was his job for the time being. Many assumed Goodwin would eventually get the job back. That all changed with a hastily-called press conference on May 26th, where he announced that he had been accepted into Harvard Medical School, beginning in August. The fans of the club were proud of the man they began to call "Doctor Goodwin", but also stunned; not that he got the opportunity, mind you, but that a player they adored was going to retire in the middle of the season.
Louisville isn't getting an MLS team anytime soon. No matter how many people want to see America's top tier come to the city, it is simply years away, if it ever happens. The logistics are not as favorable as they have been with places like Orlando or Sacramento. If the dream of MLS is going to become a reality, it will take time, money, and a lot of luck. That said, the fans of Louisville City are more than happy with what they have to cheer for right now. While some may consider it to be "minor league" soccer, the fact is that Louisville City is a professional team. Not a professional team in the sense of the Louisville Bats (the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds), where players will come and go on a regular basis, but a professional team that will make its own decisions, sign its own players, and keep them for entire seasons for the most part.
The citizens of Louisville and the surrounding area have grown up with college basketball being the "king" in regards to sports. Players for the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky become legends, talked about years after they've gone. While it hurts sometimes to see some of them leave, they're never really "gone". They've moved on to the professional ranks, to be cheered on from afar. Also, while Bats' fans grow attached to the Reds' best and most exciting prospects (such as Billy Hamilton), the fans know that when their favorite players leave town, they can simply drive 100 miles up Interstate 71 to see them play for the Reds. Scott Goodwin was the first true "hero" that the soccer fans of Louisville had, both on and off the pitch.
The way the city has embraced the club has been phenomenal. The players are heroes in the fans' eyes, just as much as if their names were Landon Donovan, or Clint Dempsey, or Christian Pulisic. Every single player on the team has been adopted as family by the fan base, greeted in public as they go to dinner, cheered on - win or lose - as they enter the locker room after each match, and shown love constantly on social media. The largest supporters group for the club, the Louisville Coopers, interacts with the players constantly, and often hangs out with them after the match at Against the Grain, a brewery built onto the edge of Louisville Slugger Field.
Some players have shied away from the attention, as is their right. After all, this is a job for them. It's a profession. Some of them have treated it as exactly that, and nothing more. They will go where they are told, they will do what they are required, and outside of that their private time is all theirs. Nobody will ever begrudge them for that, certainly not myself. However, many of the players are extroverted and enjoy doing things for others. Nobody exemplified that the way Goodwin did in his sixteen months in the city.
When asked to do anything relating to charity, kids, or the general public, Goodwin never hesitated. The answer was never, "Let me check my schedule." It was always, "Send me the info and I'll be there." He might have to juggle some things around, and he might not be there right on time, but he was there with the same energy and passion he showed on the pitch. It was obvious that Goodwin lived to brighten the lives of others. It's why he signed autographs and gave kids hugs on his way off the pitch every night, before repeating those actions outside the locker room. It's the reason that many matches ended with Goodwin handing his game-worn gloves to a young child, much to their enjoyment. These were often small gestures, done with little fanfare, that meant so much to the people whose lives he impacted. But he did them nonetheless, and he did them without being asked, often when the media wasn't around, always with a smile on his face.
That spirit is why nobody was surprised that Goodwin wanted to be a doctor, and why everyone who has met him believes he will excel at this next chapter of his life. Goodwin had often told people that medical school was his next step. He applied to Harvard in the summer of 2015, and had no choice but to retire when he was informed that he was being accepted. Literally, he had no choice. "I told him, ‘If you had come in here and told me you turned down that opportunity, I would've told you to get on the phone right now and call them back'," O'Connor said at the announcement press conference.
The atmosphere for the match on Monday is an interesting one. Storms keep many fans away until nearly kickoff, and a crowd of about 6,700 fans eventually makes its way into the stadium. "Surely, he will start one final time", many fans say. Sadly, he won't, named as one of the seven substitutes on the team sheet. Goodwin makes his way out to the center of the pitch, joining club President Amanda Duffy, and one of the club's owners, Wayne Estopinal. After a short video is shown on the center field screen, in which his teammates send him their well-wishes, Goodwin is presented with a framed jersey signed by the entire team. It's a nice moment for everyone. Then he takes his place on the bench, and the match begins. Louisville City gets two goals in the span of less than sixty seconds early on, and a blow to the head of Kadeem Dacres earns marching orders for Montreal's captain, Jeremy Gagnon-Lapere — sent down to play specifically in this match by the Montreal Impact. It's 2-0 at the half, and the fans want one last chance to watch Goodwin play.
Finally, in the second half, as the Coopers chant "Scot-ty Good-win", he walks to the fourth official. The board goes up, with the number "1" in green. The fans erupt with euphoria. He embraces Ranjitsingh as they trade places, and the fans give him a standing ovation as he makes his way to the goal. Then, it's business as usual. This isn't just a ceremonial appearance, there is still a match to be won. Goodwin makes two huge saves to preserve the shutout victory, as the club extends their lead in the Eastern Conference with the win. The final whistle blows, and Goodwin shakes the hands of the officials and opposing players, then makes his way to the bench to get his belongings. Before he can leave the pitch, the entire team surrounds him - including the reserve players who were watching from the stands, racing down to be part of this farewell to their leader. Given no choice in the matter, Goodwin simply tells his teammates, "please don't hurt me", before being lifted and tossed into the air half a dozen times. The smiles on the faces of everyone involved exhibit the bond that they have as a team, and with this man.
Goodwin walks down the left field line, high-fiving the fans in the supporters section for the last time. He stops numerous times to sign autographs, take photos, and receive hugs. He eventually makes it inside to the locker room for a brief moment, before taking a seat at the press conference. His face is a mask of mixed emotions, constantly changing from excitement to fatigue, to acceptance. When asked how he feels, you can see that the realization has begun to set in. No matter how many times he thought of this moment, it's hard to be prepared for it. The tears begin to well up in his eyes; to his credit, that's where they remain.
"It's tough to know that I'm not going to be able to put this jersey on again," he says. "I'm trying to linger around and keep it on as long as I can right now." He's asked about the supporters, and the eyes water even further. "I'll miss everything about our supporters. We have the best fans in the league, and I'll say that over and over." He reminisced about the support at the match, but it was the support in the community that resonated with him the most. "I can't tell you how many times my wife and I were just going out to dinner with supporters, and they have become really good friends of ours." He discusses how much the club is loved in the city, and the high hopes he has for the future of Louisville City after he is gone, discussing the front office and the excellent job he feels they have done. Finally, the questions have all been asked. He shakes the hands of a few people assembled in the room, and then heads back upstairs where the fans have lined up outside the locker room, waiting for one last moment with him before he takes off that jersey for the final time.
It has now been an hour since the match ended, and Goodwin has finally gotten the chance to swap the soccer kit for a suit. He and his wife walk past Against the Grain as he carries the framed jersey out to his car. A few minutes later, they walk back in and through the doors of the brewery. His teammates are already in a side room, eating their post-match meal. They have been in there for the better part of a half hour, all in good spirits after the win, waiting for "Dad" to join them.
However, he still has a few more hands to shake, a few more people to hug, and a few more goodbyes to say to people in the restaurant, including mine. Then, with no fanfare or hesitation, he walks up to the President of the Coopers and his fiancée, with whom Scott and his wife have developed a terrific friendship. He hands them his gloves; the final pair he will likely ever put on as a professional. He doesn't need them any longer; the man is about to do something so much more important than soccer, and the gloves he will wear now are quite a bit smaller. To the recipients, he gift is a special one. Another large smile is had, another person wraps their arms around this man who seems to take great pleasure in making others happy, no matter how great or small the gesture.
Scott Goodwin left Louisville on Monday, and is starting to settle in his new home in Boston. Tonight, Louisville City's players will take the pitch for the first time in their existence without "Dad" being a member of the club. It's a new chapter for everyone involved, and one that feels unfamiliar. While there were people who were sad to see Fondy leave, the connection that many had with the man who wore the yellow shirt in goal resonated in a larger manner because of his interactions with others. He's clearly a man who cares about those around him, a vital quality if one is to succeed in the medical profession.
The club will move on. Louisville City is riding a fifteen-match unbeaten streak, stretching back to a loss to New York Red Bulls II in the second match of the season. The fans will move on. Ranjitsingh has endeared himself to the crowd with his acrobatic saves and his energy. The kids will move on. Chandler Hoffman is becoming a star, currently the active league-leader in goals scored on the season. However, there will always be a small piece missing for so many people who support the club. Goodwin was the player who Louisville City fans could most relate to, always there with a smile and a moment of his time to talk to you, no matter who you were.
I guess it's only fitting that the first and only player to wear the number "1" on the back of his shirt was the first player to fully entrench himself, both on and off the pitch, into the hearts of every Louisville City fan, young and old; the first to teach them just how hard it is to see someone they love leave the team they love, never to be seen on any pitch again. That sure won't stop most of them from following him and cheering him on in his new career. I'd wager a bit of money that he will hear "Scot-ty Good-win" chanted from some attendees in the crowd when he graduates from Harvard. Odds are, they will all be wearing purple.