13 December 2012

Essay: This is hockey country

While in North Dakota, I had the chance to take in an amazing atmosphere at a University of North Dakota hockey game. While on an airplane a day and a half later, I took a stab at an essay on the topic. It's not my usual style or subject matter on this blog, but what is a free-lance blog for if not posting stories that you haven't been able to sell to anybody!?

So if you're interested, check it out after the jump. It was a fun night.

12 December 2012

MLS home-grown prospect update

The MLS offseason has a number of different sub-plots, and one of my favorites is collegiate soccer players with the potential to be signed to home-grown contracts. It’s early in December, but we’re already getting news on the home-grown player front. Between the NCAA College Cup and the initial list of players invited to January’s MLS Combine, we’re getting a good idea of which senior prospects could be signing directly with a club, rather than hoping to be picked in the SuperDraft. (Underclassmen, of course, are another story.)

I was a little surprised to hear so much talk about the draft prospects of Georgetown midfielder Ian Christianson (a senior) and Maryland forward Patrick Mullins (a junior) during the College Cup, given that both were claimed by the Fire on a 2010 list of home-grown claims. That list had yet to be ratified by MLS, however, and claims from a variety of teams later fell through. So I’ve been curious about the specific cases of Christianson and Mullins, and I think I now have answers:

It seems that Christianson played for the Chicago Fire Academy in his junior and senior years of high school and then went to Georgetown. Where the situation gets tricky, however, is the fact that Christianson’s hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is a good 220 miles from Bridgeview, much greater than the maximum of 75 miles allowed by the Fire’s specified home territory. Based on the original MLS home-grown player rules, which could have been changed by now, teams were allowed two territorial exemptions (players who live outside the home territory) per age group (there were six age groups at the time; the rules contain no explanation of what happens when a territorial exemption moves up an age group).

MLSsoccer.com’s Daniel Robertson reported on Sunday that Christianson said his lack of home-grown eligibility was a decision made by MLS, but Fire Director of Communications Brendan Hannan said in an e-mail that Christianson was not on the club’s home-grown list because, “the club is left with difficult decisions on who to place on the ‘out of area’ home-grown list.” Reading between the lines, the Fire must have (either now, or at some point during Christianson’s association with the club) decided to prioritize two other prospects from outside the home territory.

This is an interesting one. Mullins played youth soccer in Louisiana for Lafreniere SC, one of several clubs that merged to form the Chicago Fire Juniors Louisiana club. Hannan's email said, however, that Mullins had left for college before his club’s official affiliation with the Fire.

Normally this would be understandably clear-cut, but the decision not to accept the Fire’s claim to Mullins (a claim they did make as far back as 2010, and he has since played for Fire U-20 teams) seems to contradict a recent MLS precedent. Last year, MLS accepted the Portland Timbers’ home-grown claim to forward Brent Richards, who played youth soccer for EastSide United way before the MLS Timbers even existed and also played for the Timbers’ PDL team. EastSide United was later folded into the MLS Timbers’ youth system, providing the basis for Richards’ signing. In a somewhat similar situation, I have heard that the San Jose Earthquakes will be able to place a home-grown claim on former U.S. U-17 and current Santa Clara goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh, even though he left for U-17 residency before his club became affiliated with the Earthquakes. This is likely a few years away, but worth noting.

We don’t know how much back-and-forth there was between MLS and the Fire over these two players, but it is interesting to track some of these borderline cases. Believe me, there are a lot more behind the scenes that we don’t hear about.

As for home-grown MLS prospects, here is a summary of what is being reported about some of those already linked to pro deals for 2013, notably from Adam Jardy at the Columbus Dispatch and Ives Galarcep of Soccer By Ives:
MLS clubPlayerCollegeHG claim statusOutlook
Chicago MF Ian ChristiansonGeorgetownnoneMLS combine
ColumbusDF Chad BarsonAkronacceptedlikely to sign
ColumbusGK Justin LuthyBoston Collegeacceptedlikely to sign
ColumbusDF Matt WietUCLAacceptedlikely to sign
ColumbusMF Wil TrappAkron (soph.)acceptedhired agent, could sign
D.C. UnitedFW Uwem EtukWest Virginiaclub declinedMLS combine
FC DallasDF London WoodberryMarylandacceptedcontract offered
New EnglandMF Scott CaldwellAkronacceptedlikely to sign
PortlandFW Erik HurtadoSanta ClaradeniedMLS combine
Just for fun, here are some other players who could be looking at pro contract offers, even though I haven't seen it reported:
MLS clubPlayerCollegeResume
Chicago MF Bryan CiesiulkaMarquette (jr.)2nd tm Big East; 5g, 9a
ChicagoMF Harry ShippNotre Dame (jr.)3rd tm Big East; 6g, 6a
ColoradoGK Brendan RoslundSan Francisco (sr.)6-foot-6; 0.99 GAA
ColoradoDF Patrick SlogicCornell (jr.)6-foot-5; 1st tm all region
ColoradoMF Dillon SernaAkron (fr.)1st tm MAC; 2g, 8a
FC DallasDF Mikey AmbroseMaryland (fr.)2nd tm ACC; 1g, 7a
FC DallasMF Danny GarciaUNC (fr.)2nd tm ACC; Frosh POY
FC DallasDF Boyd OkwuonuUNC (so.)1st tm ACC
HoustonDF Sebastien IbeaghaDuke (jr.)ACC Def. POY
LA GalaxyFW Gyasi ZardesCSU-Bakersfield (jr.)MPSF POY; 15gls in 17gms
New YorkGK Keith CardonaMaryland (so.)1.14 GAA
New YorkFW Brandon AllenGeorgetown (fr.)Big East Rookie of Yr; 16g, 2a
(from NY)
MF Bryan GallegoAkron (so.)2nd tm MAC
PortlandMF Steven EvansPortland (jr.)1st tm WCC; 14g, 3a
SeattleDF DeAndre YedlinAkron (so.)1st tm MAC; 6a
SeattleFW Sean OkoliWake Forest (so.)2nd tm ACC; 11g, 3a
SeattleMF Aaron KovarStanford (fr.)Pac 12 Frosh of Yr; 3g, 2a
Toronto FCFW Allando MathesonUConn (so.)7g, 1a
Vancouver MF Ben McKendryNew Mexico (fr.)MPSF Newcomer of Yr

09 December 2012

Photo blog: My trip to North Dakota

I got the wonderful chance this week to visit North Dakota for the first time, letting me cross another state off my list. Not too many left! Somewhat fittingly, I ended up getting stuck in Fargo, N.D., for an extra day after my Sunday-morning flight was cancelled, but here's a photo blog from my first two days in this cold, cold state:

Friday was a long, long travel day. Shreveport-Fargo is not exactly a direct flight. It took 10+ hours, three flights, and a roughly 40-degree dip in temperature.

7 a.m. flight from Shreveport.

Connecting in Denver.

4:30 p.m. arrival in Fargo.
NDSU is everywhere in Fargo.
Naturally, my first destination was the Fargodome, capacity somewhere upwards of 18,000.
The inimitable Fargodome.

I met up with my partner, Ben Leber, and some of our crew on Friday night, and by airtime on Saturday, we were ready to go.
Former Vikings LB Ben Leber, a South Dakota native
who is well-known and popular in the area.
Almost time for kick-off.

The game itself was low-scoring but intense and highly entertaining. Both teams used a lot of clock with every possession, with Wofford trying to upset the defending FCS champion. North Dakota State's dominating defense (no offensive touchdowns allowed in last 14 quarters of playoff football) made crucial third- and fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter to advance to the FCS semifinals next week.
Noise level upward of 100 decibels at times during
the game, won by NDSU 14-7 behind its top-rated defense.

Afterward, a look at the production truck responsible for making us look good.
Behind-the-scenes magic.

Since it was a day game and I'm a long-time amateur hockey fan, I took the chance to drive 87 miles up to Grand Forks, N.D. to see the famed Ralph Engelstad Arena at the University of North Dakota. Despite some wind and really poor visibility, I'm very glad I went. The arena and atmosphere, with a sold-out crowd of 11,799, were simply amazing, and it was great to see some live hockey. Great end to a very fun sports day.
Yeah, it was snowing as I got to the arena midway through the first period.
As for the game, UND beat Denver 6-3 in WCHA action.

02 December 2012

Enjoying a different type of football

Home fans and their distinctive orange at
Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas
I’m kind of a niche-sport guy. Always have been and maybe always will be. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy some of the big ones – Major League Baseball, college football, the NFL, the Stanley Cup playoffs – but I really get a kick out of covering sports I like that don’t get all that many headlines. College baseball, high school ice hockey, and – of course – Major League Soccer.

So when assigned an FCS college football playoff game last weekend, I was psyched. I watch these games on TV every year and really enjoy the football division formerly known as Division I-AA.

I got the matchup between Sam Houston State, last year’s runner-up, and Cal Poly. Oddly enough, I had already been to both teams’ home stadiums, but neither for a college football game. Throw in a reasonable, three-hour drive from Shreveport to Huntsville, Texas, and my trusty broadcast partner, Forrest Conoly, and I was anticipating a fun afternoon on Saturday.

The broadcast itself had a few more elements than we have had in our other games, including on-camera reporting at halftime, coach interviews, regular promotional reads for other ESPN broadcasts, and more. It sounds like par for the course for a lot of the broadcasts you see, but it is not the norm for us. That takes some getting used to, but it was pretty similar to a lot of the soccer broadcasts I’ve done, so I didn’t feel like we were overwhelmed by some of the moving parts.

We had a great production crew, from the guys in the truck to those manning cameras to the stage managers in the booth with us. While we’re used to working with solid crews, this was probably the best top-to-bottom group we’ve worked with on a football game this year, and it included a few friendly faces I know from Houston.

Our open aired while it was still light out.
I got to voice-over the most elaborate tease we’ve had this year – including video of the giant Sam Houston statue – and I thought we did well in the open. The game itself was a little disjointed, and it took us time to get in a rhythm. Both teams came in with great offensive reputations, but they struggled to reach the end zone. The first score of the game was a blocked punt that went for a safety, and that actually ended up being the difference. We did see a cool double-reverse touchdown pass from Cal Poly in the final minutes, but the Mustangs’ onside kick was recovered by Sam Houston State, and the Bearkats are on to the quarterfinals against Montana State.

It may not have been the perfect game or the perfect broadcast, but I really enjoy covering teams and sports that you don’t hear about on every sports talk show. Plus I think it’s great to cover playoff football at the college level, and Saturday’s game definitely had some of that desperate intensity that the playoffs can produce. I’m looking to more of the same next week, in what will probably be my final broadcast of the 2012 calendar year, so stay tuned.