02 September 2014

Football opening day in photos -- Aug. 30

I have the fortune to cover multiple sports, and each is interesting and exciting in its own way. Saturday meant the beginning of college football season for most FBS and FCS schools, including the two whose games I called, Buffalo (FBS) and Duquesne (FCS).

It was the in-game broadcast debut of 15-year NFL veteran Vonnie Holliday, who was fun to work with both ahead of time and during the game itself. Here's to many more opportunities for Vonnie and, possibly, for us to work together!

On Friday, after flying in from our respective homes, we met up with our producer at UB Stadium to attend Buffalo's walkthrough. You don't always get a lot out of walkthroughs, but we certainly learned plenty from this one. We learned about a change in the starting offensive line, watched Buffalo work on avoiding bouncing punts, and met nose tackle Kristjan Sokoli, whose family gradually moved to North Jersey from Albania during his childhood.

We also got a look at the Buffalo facilities, including a wall that highlighted the school's all-time leaders in various football categories. That included their most famous football alum, Khalil Mack, who was the No. 5 pick in this year's draft (by the Raiders), and who - as it turned out - came to the game on Saturday.

On game day, we arrived early (around 12:45 for a 3:30 game) to test equipment and rehearse some of the elements of our show. Our broadcast position was a little cramped, but we certainly couldn't complain about the vantage point!

We detoured down to the field to meet Duquesne head coach Jerry Schmitt, who had been very helpful earlier in the week when we talked on a conference call, and - of course - to take a selfie!

After planning to pre-record our opening segment, we wound up doing it live, but I think it ended up being very competitive with our rehearsals, so we were proud of handling that situation well.

Once the game began, Buffalo got off to a good start, but the weather wouldn't cooperate: We had a lightning delay midway through the first quarter. Thankfully we were NOT called on to kill time for the entire 40-minute delay, so we recharged just like the teams did.

After Buffalo controlled most of the first half, a turnover late in the second quarter (when Buffalo's return man failed to avoid a bouncing punt -- remember the walkthrough!?) put Duquesne back in the game. The Dukes, playing an FBS opponent for the first time, promptly dominated the third quarter and actually took a 28-24 lead early in the fourth quarter, much to our surprise.

Buffalo eventually pulled away for the win, however, using a go-ahead touchdown and a clock-eating drive to do so by a 38-28 score. That left Vonnie and I to wrap things up in a post-game segment, and we didn't get back to the hotel until after 9 p.m., not at all what we expected with a 3:30 kickoff!

All in all, a fun opening weekend for both of us. No football for me this weekend (Sept. 6), as I'll be attending a wedding, and I have a lot of weekends tied up with soccer this fall, but I hope to get some more football games under my belt as well!

30 August 2014

Circus catch highlights Duquesne effort in 38-28 loss to Buffalo

My Saturday game, called on ESPN3 with Vonnie Holliday, was Duquesne's first game against an FBS team, and they sure put in a memorable performance. After trailing 21-0 late in the first half, the Dukes rallied to go up 28-24 early in the fourth quarter before eventually succumbing, 38-28.

I'll post some pictures from our day later, but first one of the coolest football plays I've had the privilege to call.

29 August 2014

My college football season kicks off with Buffalo vs. Duquesne Saturday on ESPN3

Most of you know me for calling soccer games or working in soccer, but this weekend I'll be stepping away to call college football for ESPN3. I am a big fan of several sports, and this is a chance to call one of them!

Sept. 1, 2012 - My CFB debut.
Football, Yardley-Style
Two years ago was my first experience calling college football (although I had called high school games in Texas, which occasionally has more fans than some college teams), and it was awesome. Over the course of the 2012 season, I called nine games, most with former Florida State offensive lineman Forrest Conoly, ranging from an opening-day game between two first-year FBS programs to the FCS quarterfinals featuring North Dakota State, then en route to the second of its three consecutive (and counting) national championships.

The rhythm of flying to a different college city each week, learning the teams and the context of their seasons, trying to take in some of the local culture, and then calling three-and-a-half hours of intensity, was exactly what I was looking for, and it made me want college football to be part of my portfolio going forward.

It didn't happen last year, in part because I missed the first three weeks of the season while traveling and moving to New York, and in part because there are fewer games covered by ESPN3 in reasonable travel distance of my new home.

Always nice to see your name listed near Brent Musberger's.
This year, however, I'm back on the schedule, at least for one week: I'll be calling Buffalo vs. Duquesne on Saturday at 3:30 pm ET on ESPN3! I've got a new partner for this one, 15-year NFL veteran Vonnie Holliday, and I can't wait to get started.

This Week's Game
As so many early-season games are, this one appears a bit of a mismatch. Buffalo went to a bowl game last year, while Duquesne is an FCS team offering only 35 scholarships. But Buffalo lost three of the best players in its history -- No. 5 NFL draft pick Khalil Mack, who's kind of impressive, tailback Branden Oliver and top receiving option Alex Neutz. In their last game against an FCS opponent in September 2013, the Bulls needed five (yes, that's right, five!) overtimes to beat Stony Brook.

Duquesne is coming off a season in which the Dukes were, in their minds, less than seven minutes away from winning the Northeast Conference outright and earning a bid to the FCS tournament. Having missed three field goals, they ultimately fell to Sacred Heart 10-0, so when the teams tied for the NEC title, Sacred Heart got the automatic bid. For the Dukes, this year is about winning that conference title outright and getting to the dance. Winning the opener may be highly unlikely, but they will not be short on motivation or effort, and I'm looking forward to seeing what both teams bring into their respective 2014 campaigns.

Both the Bulls and Dukes have hometown-hero quarterbacks, with Buffalo's Joe Licata (pronouncd li-COT-uh) the leader of an effort to build sustained success at Buffalo, historically not a great market for college football but one that led the MAC in attendance last year. Dillon Buechel has skills rarely seen by a program used to building on Steelers-style football: defense and the punishing rushers of western Pennsylvania. Buechel (pronounced BEE-kul) was one of the top 20 freshmen in the FCS last year.

Having watched video and studied flash cards all week, I'll be flying to Buffalo on Friday and checking out UB Stadium before calling Saturday's game. Give it a look if you've got some time -- Vonnie's 6-foot-5, so I'll be the short one this time!

27 August 2014

Sporting Park, four years later

After calling the Aug. 23 NWSL semifinal in Kansas City (more on that later) during the day, I got to take in an MLS game as a fan that night.

I'd been to the completed Sporting Park twice before, both when working for the Houston Dynamo, and both times the emotions of the game (a 3-0 Houston loss and a Houston win in the conference championship) overshadowed anything the stadium provided as far as takeaways.

So on this visit I spent the first half just watching the game from a press box-level seat, then spent the second half moving around to sit in several different seats (the south end zone, the top row of the 'G' in 'SPORTING' on the far sideline, and seats just behind the KC bench).

There's a lot to like about the stadium. The noise was great (at least until D.C. United took the game over with three goals in the first half), and I liked that the concourse is, at least for half the stadium, still in sight of the field. Very different from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston and Red Bull Arena in New Jersey (at RBA, they won't even let you stand at the top of a section). Both shades of blue were everywhere, the crowd consisted of a good mix of people,and the place had a great energy level.

More than anything else, it was cool to see the finished product. On a Dynamo road trip to Kansas City in September 2010, I got a tour of the in-progress stadium, and here's a look at how things looked then and now (and a comparison of how much better cell-phone cameras have gotten!)

Sept. 2010Aug. 2014

12 August 2014

All Chinese to me: Preparing for players whose names you can't read

I take the preparation and research for my broadcasts very seriously, and I got some special help this week.

This summer brought me a terrific opportunity, as I was asked to call games at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup for ESPN

That meant learning how to pronounce a ton of names, many of them in languages unfamiliar to me. We've already covered some of my French background with this #HumbleBrag post, but the Asian teams … that's another story. Is pronouncing the transliterated versions of Chinese and Korean phonetically really the best way? With the US drawn against China in the group stage, I had to find a solution.

Thankfully, my family came to the rescue again. My older brother happens to have married a Chinese-American woman and has learned plenty of Chinese himself. So I spent a good 30 minutes on Skype listening to him make sounds I never thought he could. (He actually looked online for a roster in Chinese characters to make sure he was giving me good advice, but he never could find one.)

After repeating his pronunciation of player after player, I then wrote them out phonetically for myself (Lyu Siqi became lyew suh-chee, for example) and began practicing. When watching China's first two games, I said the names out loud as players passed the ball around, constantly reminding myself to use only the family name (the first name listed) on second reference. So if I wanted to use what we think of as Lyu Siqi's "last" name, I would say, 'lyew.'

Between the first and second group games, I got my sister-in-law on the phone for a test run, and she only corrected one of my 22 pronunciations, so I felt ready to go for the US-China game on Tuesday.

When preparing my scoresheet, instead of writing out the players' names as listed by FIFA (LYU Siqi) or what appeared on their jerseys (LYU S Q), I went with a combination of accuracy and phonetics. Since I had most of the last names down and wanted those to be used more often, I wrote the last names in all caps in their proper spelling (LYU). Then I wrote a small-caps, phonetic version of their individual names (SUH CHEE). So if I had forgotten No. 5's name, I would look down and quickly get LYU; suh-chee might only be used if I had time to get into any of the (minimal) background information I had come up with.

I went over the names with my partner, former World Cup- and U-20 World Cup-winning coach Tony DiCicco, who has been great to work with for all the US games. Plenty familiar with Chinese national teams from facing them over the years, he also focused on getting the last names correct. Since there were only a few duplicates in the lineup, that mostly sufficed.

The broadcast went off without a hitch, at least from a Chinese names perspective, and the time we put into our preparation was well worth it. How else could we quickly be able to correctly identify and pronounce TAN and TANG, LYU and LIU, LI and LEI, ZHONG and ZHANG? For that I am very, very grateful to my brother and my sister-in-law.

Now for Saturday ... anybody know Korean?

03 August 2014

NPSL championship game archive

Here's the archived video from Saturday night's NPSL championship game between the New York Red Bulls U-23s and Chattanooga FC. Supporters from both teams laid down a great soundtrack, and I thoroughly enjoyed calling the game. Have a look:

24 July 2014

The moment Real Salt Lake decided to sign 17-year-old Sebastian Saucedo

I actually missed the moment when Real Salt Lake decided to sign 17-year-old Sebastian Saucedo, who is reportedly set to become the club's first Utah-based Homegrown Player (the other HGPs have come from outside the state via the club's residential academy in Arizona).

I was tweeting. Oops.

It was at the Generation adidas Cup - the MLS U-17 championship - in Frisco, Texas, on April 17. I was covering the tournament for MLSsoccer.com, calling three group games, the semifinals and the final and writing daily recaps from the tournament.

So on the final day of group games, Real Salt Lake was playing its biggest rival in Development Academy play, the LA Galaxy, with the winner advancing to the semifinals. The teams were battling for the division lead, so it was a can't-miss game. As I arrived at the field, I noticed more people than usual near the RSL bench. I recognized a few faces I knew from the front office and was mildly surprised they had found their way to a youth game, given that the first team was nowhere near Texas at the time.

Then I saw a face that shocked me. The club's owner, Dell Loy Hansen, was laughing with general manager Garth Lagerwey and co. At a youth tournament. It seemed absolutely crazy to me. It turns out Hansen had used his own plane to fly a group of staffers in for the game.
I don't know how much money fuel for private planes costs, but it seems like they may have gotten their money's worth on this night. Real Salt Lake blitzed LA with three goals in the first 10 minutes, the final goal a spectacular left-footed volleyed lob from 25 yards that brought the house down. I missed it, too busy tweeting about the second goal, but I saw enough. (Still hoping we can dig it out of MLS archives this week.)

Real Salt Lake added two more goals to go up 5-0 in the first 26 minutes, with Saucedo setting up the fourth and scoring the fifth. The man everybody at RSL calls, "Mr. Hansen" was intrigued. You could tell he was peppering those around him with questions about this kid.

This is the moment
When Saucedo was subbed out of the game in the 61st minute, Salt Lake's 6-1 win secure, he was soon summoned to talk to "Mr. Hansen" behind the bench. I said to an RSL staffer, half-joking, that the conversation consisted of, "So, about that senior year of high school ... I think you could do it in Salt Lake City, don't you?" and was told, in a similar tone, "That's exactly what that conversation is."

Obviously a lot more went into it than Hansen's opinion and that one play (Saucedo has been consistently outstanding for RSL and was named USSDA Western Conference Player of the Year, although the Galaxy did get revenge by beating RSL in the national title game earlier this month).

I'm sure head coach Jeff Cassar and GM Lagerwey were the most influential people in the decision.

But that moment in Frisco sure didn't hurt.

The next night, Saucedo scored with another spectacular chip, and this time I wasn't going to miss it. I even got to call it. This is what RSL's newest signing is capable of:

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 fran├žais

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: