15 March 2015

I was there ... when MLS debuted in New York

I've been to at least 50 professional baseball games in the state of New York, probably closer to 100, and a distinct majority of those have been in New York City.

But until Sunday night, I had never been to a professional soccer game in New York City.

In fact, Sunday's home opener for expansion club New York City FC was only the third professional soccer game I've attended in New York state -- the other two were on Long Island.

So while I'm not wild about soccer teams being called Football Clubs, super-rich parent clubs are not my cup of tea, and I do prefer soccer-specific venues, it was pretty cool to be there with more than 45,000 fans as (New) Yankee Stadium made its MLS debut.

I was there to observe and network, rather than appear on-air, but it was a very cool atmosphere punctuated by two moments of brilliance from David Villa. (See for yourself). There was an impressive amount of light blue in the stands, given that NYC FC is a new team, and when the entire stadium got going with unison chants of "N-Y-C, N-Y-C," it gave me goosebumps.

Welcome to MLS, New York.

13 March 2015

I'm baaack! It's never easy, but the 2015 schedule is starting to take shape

It’s been more than two months since I’ve last posted here. I’ll try not to go silent that long again.

While the last two-plus months did include an awesome vacation (hello, Diamond Head, at right), I’ve spent most of it (including parts of said vacation) trying to line up work for 2015. While last year was my best yet as a professional free-lancer, it left me with no guarantees and little scheduled work heading into 2015.

While I got some early chances to stay involved, covering the 2015 adidas MLS Player Combine (see me poolside!) and working on the online stream of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft for MLSsoccer.com, one (excellent, top-25) college basketball game on Jan. 16 was my only live sporting event in the first 65 days of 2015.
This is not a comfortable position for a broadcaster. Not only is covering live events what I enjoy the most, but it’s also what I intend to make the lion’s share of my livelihood. Sitting around without work bums me out AND fails to pay the bills.

This is a not uncommon problem for me in the spring. In 2013, I went from Feb. 27 to June 1 without calling a major live event. Of course, I was planning a wedding at the time, so I had some things to do, but it was still extremely frustrating. Once I got started, however, I wound up covering a decent set of MLS games that year.

Since 2015 is my second year in the New York sports market, I have felt a little more confident than last year that work would eventually turn up. Don’t get me wrong, I was stressing it. I made calls and sent emails and went to meetings so that I could network. I sat around and waited for responses, agonized when other broadcasters got jobs I had hoped for, estimated the minimum I would make if no other jobs came along, and wondered when something good was going to happen.

Let’s just say it’s not my favorite time of year.

But I truly remained positive, moreso than in years past. My wife, my family members, and various colleagues all helped me to do so, and I fell back on the lessons of years past:
  • Something good will happen; I just don’t know when.
  • Work will find you when you stop reaching for it. 
  • Be patient. 
  • Believe in yourself.
Clichés, I know, but they work. I don’t have my entire year planned out, but I have a pretty good idea of what I will be doing most months, and any additions to that mental schedule will be a welcome bonus!

For now, I am happy to say that I am on track for a busy spring schedule calling soccer, baseball, and softball for my usual variety of networks and outlets. My season started by hosting the pre-game show for the Philadelphia Union’s record-setting 6abc broadcast last Saturday, the first time I have covered the opening weekend of MLS play since I was full-time with the Houston Dynamo in 2011.
The current highlight of my spring schedule is a March 21 softball game I will call for the SEC Network, featuring top-20 teams Tennessee and Missouri. It is the highest-level production I have ever worked for in a sport other than soccer, and it is a chance for me to prove I can call multiple sports and earn more work at that level.

I also expect to call baseball games on more days this year (5 and counting) than any year since 2006 (I called about 100 games that year in minor league baseball), which is an exciting return to my broadcasting roots.

Soccer will, thankfully and not surprisingly, continue to make up the bulk of my schedule for the year, and I am waiting on several opportunities in the first half of the year that will be very exciting if (when!) they work out.

The work of landing jobs is not done. It never is. Thinking about opportunities and what may be available in the future is never far from my thoughts.

But I've got games to study for and the temperature in New York City is above 40 degrees. That makes me excited to get out of the apartment and start working on 2015!

31 December 2014

Here's to 2014: A year of new thrills, adventure, and excitement

So 2014 is in the books. What a crazy year. I didn't get married or anything, like in 2013, but I still hit some milestones this year:
  • My first full year in New York, living life to the soundtrack of car horns and sirens, construction drilling and trains rumbling. I made some sort of trip to four of the five boroughs this year (usually for a sporting event), but there is, of course, a lot more I still want to see. Strange, wonderful, exciting place.
  • My first broadcasts on ESPN2. It's my job, and I try to stay level-headed, but I'm not going to pretend I wasn't nervous before my call of the NWSL semifinals Aug. 23 and the MLS Game of the Week Oct. 12, both on ESPN2. So thankful to have those opportunities and to work with really excellent people on both shows.
  • More women's soccer calls than I've ever done before. This started with the US women's national team in June, continued to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in August, and wrapped with plenty of college soccer for ESPNU and the SEC Network in the fall. The same game, just a little different, and a host of World Cup champions as color analysts. I had an awesome time and can't wait to do some of it again!
  • My first televised (multi-camera) baseball games! I think I'm associated more with soccer now, but my broadcast career started with (and primarily dealt with) baseball from 2002-06. It's the sport I've been attached to the longest. I finally got the chance to call some televised games with St. John's ESPN3 broadcasts this spring, and it didn't disappoint.
I also saw two concerts and the birth of a cow at the Houston Rodeo, two incredible (and incredibly different) weddings, old family hangouts in Arkansas, Derek Jeter's second-to-last game, and soccer's first Cosmos-Red Bulls showdown in the Open Cup.

I saw soccer games in MLS, NWSL, NASL, USL PRO, NPSL, USOC, SEC, ACC, and AAC.

I was visited in the city by friends new and old, from those leaving on an around-the-world trip to those who live a few subway stops away, and several whose transit status falls somewhere in between.

I experienced crazy weather in Tucson in February, froze my butt off in Chicago in March, shivered in Dallas in April, sweated in Kansas City in August, toured the Southeastern Conference in September and October, and relished covering indoor sports in Queens, Brooklyn, and Jersey in November and December.

I partied (in the sense of attending an event) at the Frick Collection, took my dog into a bookstore (who knew that was allowed?), went to the FDR Museum in Hyde Park, and swelled with pride as my (far) better half was sworn in as a member of the New York State Bar.

Quite a year, personally and professionally, and much to be thankful for. Here's to many more exciting ventures, changes, and memories in 2015!

28 October 2014

Experiencing an SEC football game on the plains of Auburn

I was in Auburn, Alabama last weekend to call the Iron Bowl of Soccer - Auburn vs. Alabama - and got a dramatic finish in a 1-0 Tiger victory in overtime.

The night before, I had the chance to take in my first conference football game in the SEC - Auburn vs. South Carolina - and go behind the scenes with the SEC Network broadcast of the game. It was a really fun experience, and I thought I'd share some of my pictures and my impressions:

20 October 2014

Pictures from my latest Georgia trip, ESPNU broadcast

I made my second trip of the year to call a game at the University of Georgia last weekend, including what felt like my umpteenth flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta. Many more still to come, of course!

With a free Saturday night and no college football in the area, I went to see Silverbacks Park in north Atlanta, home to the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League. Small stadium (c. 5,000 capacity) with a large youth-soccer presence in the crowd.

I was very surprised by two things: 1. The wind made it quite a cool evening. 2. T-shirts for 'MLS Atlanta 2017' were sold side-by-side (from a third-party vendor) with those of the home team, a member of a league often considered in competition with MLS. Very interesting.

My partner for Sunday's game, airing on ESPNU this time instead of the SEC Network, was former US women's national team star Shannon MacMillan, who won the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation's top player in 1995 while at Portland, then was a key player as the US won the 1996 Olympics and 1999 World Cup and later played in the WUSA.

What had not occurred to me was that the 1996 Olympic soccer competition culminated in Athens, Georgia, with MacMillan scoring the semifinal game-winner and a goal in the final in games played before capacity crowds in Sanford Stadium, the Georgia football stadium! This was Shannon's first time back to Athens in 18 years, and even though she was performing in a much smaller venue, I think she had a great afternoon.

Most of us working on the broadcast were shadowed by University of Georgia broadcast television students as part of ESPN's Campus Connection program, and Shannon and I had the chance to talk to a bunch of them before things got too crazy, so that was a lot of fun.
The game itself was a little hectic. A half-marathon held in the morning had limited our crew's access to the site, so there were a few things that wound up being done on-the-fly. In taping our opening segment, we were about to complete our best take when the stadium PA system launched into The Star-Spangled Banner, a definite no-no. So we did the open live, and except for one word stumble on my part (which I fairly successfully worked through), it still went great!

Afterward, with flights from Atlanta scheduled for Sunday night, we both high-tailed it out after the game, but not before I changed clothes and took a quick selfie with the stone Uga (pronounced like Uggla without the L) that keeps watch over the UGa Soccer Stadium!

Once I got to the airport, I could not convince TGIFriday's to switch any of its televisions away from Sunday Night Football, so to catch the first half of LA vs. Seattle for the MLS Supporters' Shield title, I used their wireless signal instead.
Finally, here's a link to our post-game segment, including both of the game's goals.

12 October 2014

FC Dallas clinches playoff berth with late win over LA Galaxy on ESPN2

Tired but elated after my first MLS on ESPN2 broadcast Sunday night! Check out the highlights:


Plus, links to some web content on ESPNFC.com:

05 October 2014

Calling battle of SEC heavyweights on Sunday: No. 6 Florida at Arkansas

Only two women's soccer teams remain unbeaten in SEC play through four rounds of play, and those two will go head-to-head Sunday morning (noon ET) in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when No. 6 Florida (9-2, 4-0 SEC) takes on Arkansas (6-2-4, 2-0-2 SEC). I'll have the call on the SEC Network with 1999 World Cup-winning coach Tony DiCicco (nice resume, eh?).

Where we'll be watching from.
Florida's won five games in a row, including a dramatic 1-0 win at Texas A&M on Friday night in a battle of the conference's top two teams. Arkansas is no slouch, though: The Razorbacks made a Cinderella run to the NCAA Round of 16 last year in the first NCAA tournament appearance in their 28-year history! They play a rough-and-tumble polar opposite of Florida's smooth passing game, so it will provide yet another game featuring a contrast in styles.

You want stars? Florida has US U-20 forward Savannah Jordan, who scored 22 goals as a freshman last year and had the game-winner against A&M (and scored to eliminate Arkansas in last year's SEC quarterfinals). The Gators have 6-foot-1 goalkeeper Taylor Burke, a dual soccer/high-jump star who is one shutout away from tying the Florida career record. They also have a 6-foot Slovenian international with crazy hair and one of the best center-back tandems around. Fun team to watch.

You'll be happy to know I got a lower-key rental car this week.
Arkansas has US U-23 attacker Ashleigh Ellenwood, whose long throw-ins are a vital part of the Razorback game plan -- sometimes it looks like her arms are more tired than her legs at the end of a game! Senior Tyler Allen has already been on SportsCenter twice this year, thanks to her habit of sending in dangerous free kicks from deep positions. The Razorbacks also have bright underclassmen in goalkeeper Cameron Carter and attackers Sparky Fischer and Nicole Ortega. (I use the generic term "attackers" because trying to assign consistent spots to Arkansas's formations is extremely difficult.)

Moving planks one at a time. to support the lift
When I landed this afternoon, I went straight to Razorback Field, where our intrepid crew was setting up for the 11 am (local time) kickoff on Sunday. That meant I got to see how they lined up the scissor lift for our end-zone camera without messing up the stadium's grass: CAREFULLY.

Well worth it for a great view on Sunday.
Coaches love to talk about chess matches on the field ... this one was at the airport.

28 September 2014

Calling top-5 matchup between Virginia, Florida State on ESPNU Sunday

Our midfield view at the Seminole Soccer Complex.
My fall slate of soccer games hits its most high-profile contest on Sunday, with No. 3 Virginia (ranked No. 2 by Soccer America) taking on No. 5 Florida State at 4 p.m. ET on ESPNU. If you like watching soccer at all, this game is worth checking out. Here's why:

1. The best player in college soccer. Morgan Brian is 21, a senior at Virginia, and part of the US women's national team. You may have heard of them. She won the Hermann Trophy as the country's top player last year (this highlight reel gives you some idea), and she's already got three goals and five assists in seven of Virginia's 10 games this year, missing three while playing for the US. An O-mid in college and D-mid for the US, she is an exceptionally technical player, equally comfortable playing one-touch passes and using intricate dribbling moves. I've been very impressed watching her on video, and I'm looking forward to seeing her play in person. On the Virginia side, I'm also looking forward to seeing US U-20 forward Makenzy Doniak (I called her games this summer in the U-20 Womens' World Cup) and versatile midfielder Danielle Colaprico, a New Jersey product who has played all four midfield spots this year and excelled in each.

2. International flavor. Two of Florida State's top offensive threats hail from Iceland, 5-foot-11 Dagný Brynjarsdóttir (herself a candidate for this year's Hermann Trophy) and 5-foot-9 Berglind Thorvaldsdóttir. Yes, that means their fathers' names are Brynjar and Thorvald. The Seminoles also have players from Ireland, Finland, Japan, Germany, and Canada.(and New Jersey!)

3. It's going to be close. 17 of the last 20 games between these ACC rivals have been decided by one goal or finished tied, and their last four regular-season games have gone to overtime. It will also likely be played with pace and skill rarely seen in the college ranks.

4. Virginia's ridiculous offense. The Cavaliers led the country in scoring last year with 3 goals per game and are averaging 3.6 in 2014. They have scored at least two goals in every game this season and have scored in 44 consecutive games, the longest active streak in Division I. They've also won 31 consecutive regular-season games. Their last regular-season loss? In overtime at Florida State on Oct. 14, 2012.

5. These teams need to be tested. Both went to the College Cup last year and were eliminated in heartbreaking fashion by national champion UCLA. But this year, they have not faced a lot of sturdy opposition. Florida State has played two ranked teams, beating Portland and losing (at home) to rival Florida, while Virginia has yet to play a ranked opponent.

After flying in on Saturday afternoon, I watched Virginia's walk-through on a bumpy football practice field (in the shadow of Doak Campbell Stadium) and checked out Florida State's facilities, including the softball field (which shares a concourse with the soccer stadium) and baseball stadium. Not surprisingly, humidity and bugs were everywhere, but I have a feeling that won't slow these teams down this afternoon.

I'm excited to work with ACC, NCAA, and Olympic champion Cat (Reddick) Whitehill for the second straight week, with coverage starting on ESPNU at 4 p.m. ET or after the conclusion of the Florida-Mizzou game that starts at 2 ET (also worth watching). Should that game go into overtime, our show will start on WatchESPN. But whenever and however you have the chance, it'll be worth watching!

27 September 2014

Which of these cars just screams "Jonathan Yardley" to you?

I've gotten over my general distaste for renting cars (being over 25 and having a real credit card make it a LOT easier), but it still throws me into some unusual situations.

On Saturday in Tallahassee, I was asked what size car I wanted, and since I knew my company had reserved a mid-size, I said, "mid-size or smaller, I don't care." When I went out to the lot, my spot featured this beauty:

Somehow, I don't think that car happens to be my style. I can't imagine pulling up just about anywhere in this. Especially on a work trip! I would be incredibly self-conscious standing anywhere near it.

So I had to go back in and tell the guys at the counter that I'd like a different car, adding, "Bet you've never had anybody turn down that car before." That got a big laugh -- I'm not sure whether it was with me or at me!

I wound up in this vehicle, much more to my liking: