22 October 2012

My TV soccer season in the books

With the 3-1 FC Dallas loss to Seattle last night, my soccer broadcasting season came to an end. It was my first year working primarily (and, as it turned out, exclusively) on television, and my first year as a free-lance broadcaster rather than as a full-time team employee. As such, there were a lot of changes to get used to and adjustments to make throughout the year.

In the end, I worked 20 soccer games – 8 preseason, 12 regular season – with eight different partners in three different roles for productions by four different clubs and broadcasts on up to eight different outlets, depending on how you count it. To simplify, I called the preseason Disney Pro Soccer Classic (with a one-game cameo as a color analyst) and 10 regular-season FC Dallas games, adding one game of play-by-play for Houston and one game as a sideline reporter for Kansas City. Full schedule.

I fulfilled a major goal – earning a living (or something close to it) as a broadcaster, rather than as a communications professional who broadcasts – and owe a lot of people, both personally and professionally, for their respective roles in that.

The most memorable moment of the season was definitely Julian de Guzman’s dramatic goal against Vancouver on September 15:

I’ve had the pleasure to call some clutch late goals, both for and against my employer, since my first pro soccer broadcast in 2008, and this was one of the most fun. It was an important goal, the timing last-gasp, and the quality of the goal (how I wish we had an end-zone view of it!) satisfied the hopes of an electric crowd. That’s just about everything you can ask for. Comparing it against other plays, it loses a little bit of luster because the playoff chase went unrewarded, but anybody there that night will not soon forget it.

One of my other favorite calls from the season, one that may have flown under the radar, was this Bryan Meredith save against FC Dallas on May 9:
The play was a great one, but I felt the whole call worked well. I was able to transition from a separate point (Seattle fatigue) into the play via Fabian Castillo, I correctly identified Andrew Jacobson as the player who headed it back, and “Oh, what a stop!” felt like a good reaction to the play. After the play stopped, I was able to sum it up before turning it over to Ian Joy for the replay (which happened to come from my favorite angle).

I also really enjoyed my one foray as a sideline reporter, working for Kansas City in a June game in Philadelphia, but unfortunately all video evidence of that night seems to be lost. Kansas City fans were understandably quick to jettison any DVR recordings of their 4-0 defeat, and as far as I know, only the Philadelphia broadcast of the game still exists.

Looking back, I think the biggest improvement I made over the course of the season was ramping up the energy on my broadcasts. That applies mostly to on-camera segments, but also to play-by-play. I’m a low-key guy by nature, so I don’t like to get worked up until a moment really calls for it, but I am always excited to be calling a game. On camera, however, it sometimes takes a little bit of effort to make sure that excitement impacts the viewer. I think opening segments and slow moments in the game sounded much better in May, July, September, and October than they did in March and April. That change really started with some feedback from do-it-all analyst Brian Dunseth, so my thanks to him for that honest, helpful critique.

Overall, I felt good about my debut season on television. I would have loved to call a game every weekend and call some playoff games, but I got more comfortable each game and got better as the year went on, and that’s what you hope for. I’m excited to watch the MLS postseason and even more excited to call MLS games next year, hopefully as early as February or March.

20 October 2012

You know you're in Texas when ...

It's game day in San Antonio, and as if Forrest and I needed another reminder, our hotel breakfast let us know exactly which state we are in.

We went to the UTSA walk-through yesterday afternoon and were very impressed with the Alamodome - looking forward to seeing and hearing the crowd this afternoon.

To get ready for today's game, which you can watch on ESPN3 and discuss on Twitter with the hashtag #SJSUvsUTSA, you can also check out today's articles from the local papers:

San Antonio Express-News:   Preview  |  Keys to Victory  |  Key Matchups  |  Player Spotlight
San Jose Mercury-News:   Preview  |  Game Facts

Kickoff is 1 p.m. Central Time - check it out!

19 October 2012

Big questions face UTSA, San Jose State

San Jose State QB David Fales and UTSA RB David Glasco
square off Saturday.
This weekend, I’m headed to San Antonio for some college football, covering UTSA against San Jose State for ESPN3. It’s Homecoming and the first home conference game for UTSA, which is in its first year of a two-year transition to the FBS level. As such, the Roadrunners’ 5-1 record is a bit misleading; they are 2-1 against FBS opponents, including South Alabama, which is in its second year of the same two-year transition. San Jose State entered conference play as a title contender along with favorite Louisiana Tech and Utah State, but a lopsided loss to Utah State last week dampened the Spartans’ confidence somewhat.

I’ll be working the game with former Florida State offensive lineman Forrest Conoly, a familiar face by now, and we spent some time this week on the phone with both coaching staffs. There are a lot of matchups and sub-plots to keep an eye on, but here are the two biggest questions of the game:

Can San Jose State’s offense bounce back?
San Jose State was sacked 13 times last week. 13! That’s only two shy of the NCAA record. Nobody expects UTSA to duplicate that effort; the Roadrunners’ defensive front is nowhere near the equal of Utah State’s, and San Jose State will definitely make some adjustments. But UTSA is going to have to get pressure on Spartan quarterback David Fales, a junior college transfer with an almost unerringly accurate arm. If Fales is forced to move in the pocket, it could disrupt his throws enough to keep UTSA in the game. San Jose State will also try to take some pressure off Fales and his receivers by running the ball – after all, Rice ran for 301 yards against the Roadrunners last week – and the UTSA defense will likely need to continue producing turnovers to win the game.

Can UTSA win without a full-strength Eric Soza?
Roadrunners quarterback Eric Soza scored the first touchdown in program history, has started every game, and rarely misses a snap. Any discussion of team leaders starts with him. So when he jogged to the locker room with a hip injury late in the first half last week, it was a troublesome sign. He returned to play the second half and practiced this week, but he is still a question mark for Saturday and will not be at 100 percent even if he does play. It is asking a lot of UTSA, which is probably outmanned on pure talent, to win without him or with him at less than 100 percent. If he cannot go, redshirt freshman Ryan Polite should get the call; he looked good on two drives against Rice. How the possibly hampered Soza or the inexperienced Polite performs will be the first make-or-break challenge facing UTSA.

Players to watch
San Jose State
10 David Fales, QB 162-316, 1,867 yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs
Coaches on both sides rave about his accuracy, capable of squeezing throws into tight spaces, and Fales has talented receivers to make it pay off. He struggled to get rid of the ball quickly, however, against Utah State's fearsome pass rush.
43 Travis Johnson, DE 39 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks
As consistent as they come, Johnson continues to get into opposing backfield despite facing regular double-teams. He's tied for the national lead with a tackle for loss in 12 consecutive games, and he is the only player from a non-BCS school to be one of 25 quarterfinalists for the Rotary Lombardi Award.

1 Kam Jones, WR 12 receptions, 205 yards, 1 TD
Forrest always likes to ask about a 'wild guy,' and Jones is it. A former high school quarterback from small town Edna, Texas, Jones can catch, run, and throw from his wide receiver spot. He hasn't scored since the season opener, but he's the offensive playmaker.
17 Erik Brown, CB 16 tackles, 4 interceptions, 1 forced fumble in 5 games
Brown was a high school star at local power Converse Judson, but finished high school in Arizona and began his college career at Fresno State. Back home in Texas, he is responsible for five of UTSA's 17 forced turnovers and a key player in a secondary that faces a stiff test on Saturday.