24 June 2014

Calling Philadelphia Union vs. New York Cosmos Tuesday night

Tonight I'm working the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 game between the Philadelphia Union, from MLS, and the 21st-century edition of the New York Cosmos, from the second-tier North American Soccer League, a re-launch of the 1970s-era Cosmos. I'll have the call with Kristian Dyer, of BigAppleSoccer.com and Philadelphia Union pre-game and halftime show fame, at 7 p.m. ET on the Union's website.

Despite it being an MLS vs. NASL game, part of me considers the Cosmos favorites in this one. They're playing extremely well (19 goals for, 3 goals against in 11 games) this year, including a 3-0 demolition of the New York Red Bulls on June 14 that was more lopsided than even the score indicates. They have MLS-level talent at several positions and are really aggressive throughout the field. If they bring the same tenacity to Tuesday's game that they did against the Red Bulls, I like their chances.

That's because Philadelphia continues to struggle. Just 3-7-6 in league play, the Union needed a last-minute goal from Maurice Edu to force overtime against struggling third-tier team Harrisburg last week, and while they did rally to win, they have been anything but convincing. Their chances will significantly improve, in my view, if striker Conor Casey is healthy enough to play and if Frenchman Sebastien Le Toux gets the starting nod; he was at the heart of every significant Union chance against Harrisburg after coming off the bench.

I've really enjoyed meeting and hearing from both head coaches - New York-area soccer legend Giovanni Savarese, a former Venezuelan international for the Cosmos and Villanova grad and former MLS defender Jim Curtin for Philadelphia, where he is the interim manager. I've also got friendly faces on either side, having worked with Union midfielder Danny Cruz and Cosmos defender Hunter Freeman when I worked in Houston.

Whoever wins will host a quarterfinal on July 8, a game I plan to attend and hope to work no matter who hosts, and I'm excited to see this one tonight.

Philadelphia N.Y. Cosmos
Record 3-7-6 6-2-1
Place 8th/10 MLS East 2nd/NASL
Scoring 22-27 = -5
14-3 = +11
Leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux 4
Conor Casey 4
Mads Stokkelien 3 (+2)
Assist leader Cristian Maidana 6 Mads Stokkelien 3 (+1)
First season 2010 2013 fall
League Record 44-60-44 15-3-5
Open Cup history 5-2, 4-1 home 2-0, 0-0 away

21 June 2014

Compliments en français

This is not going to be the most humble post in blog history, so bear with me.

In preparing to call the US-France women's game on Thursday, I worked really hard to learn the correct pronunciations for the French players' names. I watched the women's French Cup final, I watched France's friendly against Brazil, and I watched one of their qualifying matches against Austria. I also watched their behind-the-scenes YouTube videos from the 2013 European Championship. I read a lot of French articles and tweets about the French women's team, known as Les Bleues (feminine version of Les Bleus, as the men's team is known). By far the most French studying I had done since my junior year of college.

20 June 2014

USA 2, France 2 - stream archive

I'm exhausted this morning after calling USA-France last night and getting home at about 1:30 a.m. last night, then rising early for working hours today.

But I'm happy. I had a blast calling the US game last night, and I'm very relieved that the United States' record home unbeaten streak survived my first game on the call, now extended to 84 games (73-0-11) after the 2-2 tie.

I got to call two excellent goals from cult hero Alex Morgan, her first goals for the US in more than a year (due in large part to injury), even if the enthusiastic screams obscured my voice at times.

More on the game later, including pictures and some reviews of my French accent, but here's the stream archive:

19 June 2014

USA vs. France tonight at 7:30 pm!

Rentschler Field
Tonight I get to call the US women's national team for the first time when they host France at 7:30 pm at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. The game can be seen at USSoccer.com.

I can admit I've got a few butterflies for this one. Calling the national team is always a big deal, and it's the first time I've called the women's national team, let alone in a game pitting teams ranked Nos. 1 and 4 in the world against each other.

But I'm far more excited than nervous and really looking forward to the game. I talked with new US head coach Jill Ellis by phone yesterday and have been watching tape on both the US and France for several weeks now.

The US is about one year away from the World Cup, and while they still have qualifying to go through in the fall, it's expected to be a formality. So this two-game series with France (the US won on Saturday in Tampa, 1-0, highlights) is about preparing the team's contributors to play high-level opposition and to give them time to adapt to a new style. From its typical starting lineup, the US is without goalkeeper Hope Solo (personal commitment), midfielder Megan Rapinoe (foot), midfielder Shannon Boxx (maternity). Forward Abby Wambach (LCL) did not train on Wednesday, while forward Alex Morgan has yet to start since returning from an ankle injury.

France is at the end of its season (the European season runs fall-to-spring), and this is the only summer in a four-year cycle without a major tournament (2011 Women's World Cup semifinals, 2012 Olympics semifinals, Euro 2013 quarterfinals). But as you can see from their results at major tournaments, France is an elite team trying to learn how to be champions, and playing the US is the best possible test.

For more on the game, here are a few preview articles I looked through this morning:
Hartford Courant with Alex Morgan on the men's World Cup
Soccerly.com on US objectives
Soccerly.com on what the game means to France
L'Equipe with French captain Wendie Renard, including this quote: "The team is at the end of the season, obviously, and there is fatigue, but for the group, it is good to compare yourself to the big nations. If one day you want to win a title, you have to go through them. The fans will be against us, and it will be interesting to see how people react mentally …"

17 June 2014

Watch Philadelphia-Harrisburg Open Cup match at 7 pm

Here's the live stream of tonight's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game between the Philadelphia Union and Harrisburg City Islanders:

It's no World Cup, but plenty of reasons to watch Philadelphia Union vs. Harrisburg City Islanders tonight

Philadelphia reached the Open Cup semifinals at PPL Park
back in 2012, beating Harrisburg 5-2 along the way.
Calling an American soccer game the day after the US national team’s dramatic 2-1 win over Ghana is intimidating. It’s not like any mid-season club game can top that type of drama, emotion, or significance.

Nevertheless, I’m really looking forward to calling the Philadelphia Union game against the Harrisburg City Islanders tonight in U.S. Open Cup play (7:00 pm ET, Philadelphia Union YouTube channel). Here are a few of the storylines that make this one worth watching:
  1. Motivation: The Open Cup often pits amped-up lower-division teams whose players have a point to prove against MLS teams for whom the game is more of a scheduling nuisance than a date to be circled. (Case in point: the New York Cosmos crushing the New York Red Bulls 3-0 on Saturday). But in this case, both teams will be highly motivated. It will be the first game for Philadelphia under interim manager Jim Curtin, which means players will be trying to prove that they deserve to either stay in the lineup or get a chance to break into it. Curtin has also stated that the Union will prioritize the Open Cup more than some other MLS teams. On the Harrisburg side, this is the biggest game on the schedule so far, and their players will bring maximum effort from the opening whistle. 
  2. Connections: With an affiliation agreement in place, these teams work together 364 days per year, but on Tuesday, they will be looking for any advantage they can get. Philadelphia will not allow four players currently on loan to Harrisburg to play against the Union, depriving Harrisburg of three starters (target forward Pedro Ribeiro, wing Jimmy McLaughlin, and center back Richie Marquez). Harrisburg will rely on its knowledge of the Union, thanks in part to wing Morgan Langley and center midfielder Yann Ekra, who have both had brief stints with Philadelphia. Union defender Sheanon Williams began his pro career with Harrisburg in 2010 
  3. Up against it: Harrisburg is seriously depleted. This is the City Islanders’ sixth of seven games in 21 days from May 31-June 20, and after seeing both Neil Shaffer and Clesio Bauque subbed out due to injury on Saturday against Pittsburgh, they have only 13 field players available for the 10 starting spots. Nevertheless, Harrisburg is 5-4 all-time in Open Cup games against MLS teams, so head coach Bill Becher and captain Jason Pelletier will be able to instill some belief in the players who are available. 
  4. A new era: Curtin is a 34-year-old Villanova alumnus who highlighted his local roots when he was introduced as Philadelphia's interim manager last week. The passionate Union fans want to see a team that reflects their own intensity, and I have a feeling Curtin will be a good motivator. That still leaves questions such as, what formation will Curtin choose, which young players will get looks, and where will some of the more established players line up? The Jim Curtin Era begins tonight, and I’ll be there to get a first glimpse.
Philadelphia Harrisburg
Record 3-7-6 3-6-3
Place 8th/10 MLS East 11th/14 USL PRO
Scoring 22-27 = -5
14-20 = -6
Leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux 4
Conor Casey 4
Morgan Langley 4
Clesio Bauque 3
Open Cup history 4-2, 3-1 home 14-7, 5-4 vs. MLS
Head-to-head Open Cup: PHI leads 1-0 (2012)
Friendly: PHI leads 2-1 (2011, 12, 13)

13 June 2014

Two soccer broadcasts coming up next week

Storm brewing during Open Cup game between
Philadelphia and Rochester in 2012.
The eyes of the soccer world are on the World Cup in Brazil, and mine are as well. But soccer continues elsewhere, particularly in the United States, where the US Open Cup, USL PRO, and NWSL all continue playing. I’ve been fortunate enough to schedule two broadcasts so far during the World Cup, both coming next week.

First up, on Tuesday, I’ll be calling the online stream of the US Open Cup game between the Philadelphia Union and Harrisburg City Islanders. I love the Open Cup. I love the pressure the single-elimination Open Cup creates in each game, its potential for upsets, and (if I’m honest) its role as a niche competition overlooked by many. I lived in Philadelphia for almost a year in 2011-12 as my better half finished her studies, so I saw two games during the Union’s run to the Open Cup semifinals in 2012 (including their win over Rochester, pictured above), and I’m excited to be calling their home games in the tournament this year.

Tuesday's game will mean a little something extra to Philadelphia players because it will be the first game for interim manager Jim Curtin, and thus the first chance for players to prove they deserve playing time in the future. Harrisburg is off to a slow start and relies on four on-loan Union players during league play. That quartet will not be allowed to play on Tuesday, one reason Harrisburg is a decided underdog. Don’t write them off, though; the City Islanders have advanced in five of their nine all-time meetings against MLS clubs in the Open Cup.

My second broadcast next week, on Thursday, is exciting in a very different way. It will be my first chance to call a game for the women’s national team, the top-ranked team in the world, as they take on No. 4 France in the second of back-to-back friendly games. These teams’ recent competitive meetings (2011 Women’s World Cup semifinals, 2012 Olympics) were both highly entertaining (3-1 and 4-2 US wins), and France is one of the few teams that can hope to match the US in terms of skill, so this is as big a friendly as you could hope to call, and it will be streamed on USsoccer.com.

Watching tape (and by tape, I generally mean YouTube, although sketchy streams from France have also been used) on both France and the US has been a lot of fun. Both teams will bring some of the best players in the world, particularly on the attacking side of the ball, but we'll also get to see some newer faces at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., all hoping to make the squads for next year's Women's World Cup in Canada.

I took French in both high school and college and loved trying to read the daily sports newspaper L’Equipe when I have traveled in France, so determining the correct pronunciations for French players’ names has been a blast. It’s made for a busy few weeks of preparation, and it should pay off when I call both games next week!

27 May 2014

Looking back on Seattle broadcast: Memorable for me, less so for the Sounders

All smiles before the game began, of course.
I had the chance to step in as a replacement play-by-play broadcaster on the Seattle Sounders' May 11 broadcast, but I'm not sure I'm going to be asked back any time soon.

Seattle came in on a five-game winning streak but suffered a 5-0 loss, its worst in six years of MLS regular-season play. We all know broadcasters have nothing to do with results, but it sure didn't look good for me. I have several college friends who live in Seattle and were excited to watch the game, but as you can see, their excitement quickly turned to frustration:
The Sounders' production team, from the excellent behind-the-scenes staff led by Brian O'Connell to vibrant pre-game hosts Jackie Montgomery and Taylor Graham and my unfortunately under-the-weather partner Kasey Keller, was extremely welcoming and great to work with. And of course the man for whom I filled in, Ross Fletcher, provided an excellent scouting report on the show format and some storylines when we talked during the week.

Interviewing Lamar Neagle from afar.
The Sounders communication staff and team personnel were also helpful - I talked briefly with defender Chad Marshall on Saturday, then had pre-game production meetings with head coach Sigi Schmid and defender Brad Evans on Sunday, finally interviewing Lamar Neagle for the pre-game show. Full credit to Sigi Schmid for enduring a halftime interview with his team down 4-0 and his voice starting to go.

My favorite two hours.
As for the broadcast itself, I definitely wish I could have another crack at the pre-game show. As always with a new show, there's a level of comfort that would be there the second time around but isn't present right away. It wasn't bad, but just something I know I could have done better. I felt very good about the in-game play-by-play, but of course it didn't create many happy memories for Sounders fans.

We were fortunate enough to be a little bit prescient in highlighting Revolution wing Diego Fagundez. He's one of the players I most enjoy watching in MLS but had been scoreless in 2014. During the week, I looked up the numbers and found that his nine starts without scoring a goal was the longest such streak of his young career, a stat I had not seen anywhere else. He also had a great track record against Seattle. Unfortunately for the Sounders, the trend that continued was him killing Seattle, as he scored twice in the first half. Not good on the field, but you always feel good when something the entire production team chose to highlight ahead of time ends up being relevant to the game itself.

Here's a look at highlights from the game via our broadcast (the league highlights used the home team broadcast in this case):

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Sounders won their next game and tied the next; as of May 27, they remain on a seven-game unbeaten streak (5-0-2) when I am NOT calling their games. I would love to work with these guys again, but I can't say the odds are looking very good.

09 May 2014

Clint Dempsey faces old club for first time, I get to call it! Sounders-Revs on Sunday

In May 2004, Clint Dempsey was a rookie midfielder for the New England Revolution who had broken into the starting lineup and scored a goal, pretty impressive feats for a first-year professional, but hardly something that screamed ‘international-caliber player.’

Ten years later, Dempsey returns to Gillette Stadium to play against the Revolution for the first time, and his game has done plenty of screaming in the intervening decade.

That long-haired rookie is now the captain of the U.S. national team and the most prolific American scorer in the history of the English Premier League. He has been the best player on the field – by a country mile, several times – through the first two months of this MLS season, and he is probably the most entertaining player the league has seen in years, providing a mix of jaw-dropping skill (did you see his behind-the-leg spin pass against Colorado?) and brash attitude (how about his forearm to the head of Philadelphia’s Aaron Wheeler?).

All of that will be on display on Sunday when Dempsey’s Seattle Sounders take on New England, and I will be fortunate enough to call the game for Sounders TV, airing on Q13 FOX in the Seattle area, as a fill-in for play-by-play announcer Ross Fletcher, who will remain with his wife as the birth of their first child approaches. Congratulations to Ross and his family, and thank you to the Sounders for bringing me in! I’m really looking forward to the game.

Besides the sheer fun of watching Dempsey play and the emotions his return will bring, both on the field and in the stands, there are a lot of other storylines headed into this game. Here are a few we’ll be watching closely on Sunday:
  1. Men on Fire – The Sounders have won five straight games, coming from behind in four of the five and getting late game-winners in three. Add in Seattle’s miracle finish in its 4-4 tie with Portland on April 5, and they have used late goals to pull out a result in five of their last six. 
  2. The Fort – New England has not allowed a goal at Gillette Stadium this year, and goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth has only had to make three saves to record his three home shutouts. Despite allowing four goals in their opening (away) game, the Revolution rank fourth in MLS in goals-against-average (1.11), but they’ll be facing a Seattle offense that scores a league-best 2.20 goals per game. 
  3. This is the last game before the United States’ pre-World Cup camp begins, which means Dempsey and Brad Evans (and maybe even DeAndre Yedlin, at least for a little bit?) could miss the next two months of action, so Seattle needs to take advantage of its games with Dempsey and Evans on the field. New England’s only World Cup player is Honduran forward Jerry Bengtson, who has struggled to translate his international goalscoring to MLS and is unlikely to start.
I’m excited just to watch this game, let alone call it alongside a former U.S. national team hero in his own right, Kasey Keller, so it should be a fun weekend in New England!

For Sounders fans who don't know me, I'll sound a little different than what you're used to because I'll be speaking American, but rest assured I have an appreciation for Seattle soccer. Long before the Sounders invented MLS, here I am (on the right) with a couple of college friends at a USL game at Qwest Field back in 2005. Some kind souls in the ECS sold me a scarf for my collection, and I haven't forgotten it!

Oh, and the Sounders won that game.

25 April 2014

Calling three college baseball games this week on ESPN3!

Jack Kaiser Stadium at St. John's earlier this year.
College baseball is one of my (many) sports passions. It's what got me started in broadcasting as a college freshman in 2002, and after living and dying with the fortunes of the Rice baseball team for four years, the sport at this level is fairly well ingrained as something I care about.

In the Northeast, however, it is nowhere near as big a deal as what I experienced in Texas, nor as what they have in California and the Southeast. Probably because it still feels cold outside, and it's April 25!

But I am psyched to be calling college baseball again tonight, Tuesday, and Wednesday, as I cover the storied St. John's program for ESPN3. Not only will these be my first baseball broadcasts since last year's WAC Tournament, but they will be my first baseball games on a full television production. I've called more baseball games than any other sport (literally hundreds), but I haven't called them for TV until now. To prepare, I've been following college baseball all year and even went to see No. 2-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette play when I was in Dallas last weekend.

Tonight I'll have St. John's against Georgetown in a Big East game. (Click here to watch.) It's pretty clear which team is favored. St. John's is 21-4 in its last 25 games, has the best home record (16-1) in the country, and is expected to at least qualify for the Big East Tournament (four of the seven teams make it). Georgetown, on the other hand, hasn't had a winning season since 1986 and is 1-8 in conference play. But the Hoyas have really improved as a program over the last 15 years and had a 25-18 record at one point last year before faltering down the stretch and finishing sub-.500.

The best part about the game, from my perspective, is that it's a Friday-night series opener. There's something special about Fridays in college baseball, when both teams pit their No. 1 starters against each other and try to set the tone for the series.

You would expect St. John's to have the edge in that department, with the experienced James Lomangino (4-4, 3.99 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) on the mound. I saw him two weeks ago against Butler when he tied a career high with 10 strikeouts, and he was very good. On the other side, Georgetown will start Matt Smith (3-5, 3.90 ERA, 1.49 WHIP), whose numbers are similar, although Lomangino is much more of a strikeout pitcher. So there may not be much of a gap between the starters.

The difference is likely to be in the bullpens, where St. John's is deep and very good and Georgetown is erratic, to say the least. We'll see if that scouting report is accurate or not, but I'm excited to see what happens tonight!

I'll also be calling two mid-week games next week, both of which will likely have a different feel in terms of intensity. St. John's will be looking to get work for its pitching staff against Princeton, playing its final game of the year, and Iona, which is struggling this season. At this point in the year, weekend series are priority No. 1, since St. John's path to the NCAA Tournament pretty much has to go through the Big East Tournament.