13 December 2013

Aloha, mahalo to Chingy

Checking out BBVA Compass Stadium in progress.(photo by Nigel Brooks)
Brian Ching was one of my favorite players before the San Jose Earthquakes moved to Houston and before I began working for the Dynamo, so instead of writing a long, emotional column about his retirement, I'm going to tell a few anecdotes and post some videos paying tribute to a guy for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect.

I think my favorite Brian Ching story comes from my first year working for the Dynamo in 2008. I was new to the team and the players, and Brian was a very intimidating presence to me. Before one game, I was assigned to tell Brian about a pre-game interview with a television partner and coordinate it. In this case, that meant getting him from the locker room and walking him across the field to the interview location. So I made some awkward small chat as we walked, me in khakis and dress shoes, he in shorts and flip-flops. When we got to the camera, a starter from the opposing team (a guy who had been in the league for a couple of years) was still doing his interview, so Brian sat on the Houston bench to wait. After a few minutes of looking around and watching the interview, he turned to me and said, "Who is that?" I responded with the player's name. He looked at me with a blank expression. We were about to play this team in maybe 90 minutes, and he did not know one of their starting midfielders!

It's not that he was unprepared or disrespectful, but something about his intense focus on his role, his game, and his team. Ching scored that night, and Houston won the game.

I also love reminding people that Ching was, to my knowledge, the first North American athlete to be fined for using Twitter. Ching is not usually a particularly outspoken quote or a lightning rod for controversy, but he was the first. It happened in 2009, while he was with the U.S. national team for the Gold Cup, and Seattle tied the game against Houston on a controversial goal-line call. Ching Tweeted "ref is a cheat," I think referring to the far-side linesman who signaled for the goal, and later paid the price.

Watching Ching deal with his exclusion from the 2010 World Cup squad was one of the hardest things I've ever seen somebody go through, but he handled it amazingly well. It made me proud every time he answered a question about it, candidly admitting his disappointment, and every time he scored or made a big play that summer, sticking it to opposing fans who needled him with the "U.S. reject" chant.

I respect and like Ching, on the field and off, and watching him lift the Eastern Conference championship trophy as Houston's captain in 2011 was one of my favorite moments with the team. I'll miss watching him play, but I'm glad he still plans to be a part of MLS, and I hope I get the chance to work with him in the future.

In addition to the great work from HoustonDynamo.com and the strong interview by CSN Houston's Sebastian Salazar looking back at his career, here are two additional videos worth watching, one from MLSsoccer.com and one from yours truly. Thanks, Brian.


Yardley YouTube channel:

18 November 2013

All basketball, all the time

I'm happy to report that I have a busy week of broadcasting coming up, including four NCAA basketball games on ESPN3 in six nights - three Rutgers men's games from New Jersey, with a St. John's women's game mixed in.

Prepping for this many games at once is no easy task - I'm about halfway through all the flashcards and team research I need to be doing - but it's a good problem to have! There are a lot of good stories out there, and hopefully I get to see a few more play out on the court.

First up is the NIT Season Tip-Off, with four teams competing at Rutgers for the right to move on to the tournament semifinals in Madison Square Garden next week. When I was in high school, I went to the Garden for several of those doubleheaders - usually to see a powerhouse like Duke or to watch Delbarton alumnus Troy Murphy play for Notre Dame - and that makes it extra special to work the tournament this year.

This four-team group has Rutgers playing Canisius tonight (click here to watch), following the opening game between Elon and Drexel. The winners and losers play each other on Tuesday night, but our broadcast will definitely be the Rutgers game.

I really don't see an overwhelming favorite in this pool: Elon has a veteran team and was a consensus pick to win the Southern Conference, and Rutgers is the biggest name in the field, but Drexel is a great defensive team, and Canisius is coming off of a 20-win season.

So it's time for me to buckle up for a busy week of basketball!

01 November 2013

It's up to you, New York

New York, New York. 
I want to wake up in that city that doesn't sleep
and find I'm king of the hill, top of the heap.

My little town blues -- they are melting away.
I'm gonna make a brand new start of it in old New York!

If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere.

It's up to you, New York. New York.

I have sung Frank Sinatra's words hundreds of times while walking out of Yankee Stadium (mostly the old one), but they've never meant more to me than this fall, because I now live in New York City.

This is a little strange, and more than a little intimidating. New York has always been where my family and I go for the big stuff: sporting events, Broadway shows, incomparable museums. It's where my brother and sister went when sneaking out of the house, and it's where I saw my first baseball game (Yankees-A's) and my first concert (Springsteen at The Garden).

I always said I wanted to live in New York, even if only for a year, just to see what it is like. But I'm not sure that I felt it would really happen.

I have arrived here in a year of transition, one which has included my marriage (awesome) and my 30th birthday (less exciting) and my return to the Northeast after the better part of 10 years in the South.

What does it mean for me, professionally speaking? That remains to be seen. I'm very excited to announce that I'll be calling some college basketball on ESPN3 - starting with a St. John's men's game tomorrow and continuing with at least three Rutgers men's games in the coming weeks. Beyond that, I'm hoping for a little bit of everything: more basketball to be sure, college baseball, MLS soccer, college hockey, maybe a return to college football next fall.

It's a new set of people to meet and work with and a new audience to convince of my credentials and abilities. But I'm excited about it, and I know I'm going to appreciate every opportunity I get to call a sporting event. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.

23 September 2013

The whole picture: Goals scored not only indicator of late-game success

Late heroics helped San Jose to the 2012 Supporters' Shield, but
two late goals were not enough in their playoff defeat.
I have the privilege of filling in on the Comcast SportsNet New England broadcast of Saturday's New England Revolution vs. Houston Dynamo game, so I've been preparing as much as possible. That involves watching both teams - recent games and past highlights - and studying the numbers.

One number that jumped out as a positive for both teams was their performances in the last 15 minutes of games; both New England and Houston have scored 13 goals this year from minutes 76-90. The league's stats and standings release, which comes out after every gameday, includes two separate tables detailing goals scored and allowed, by each team, broken down by 15-minute intervals. What is not directly released (and often not publicized), however, is teams' goal differential during different segments of the game. That, to me, is the more important statistic. After all, what good is scoring a bunch of late goals if you're allowing even more?

TeamLast 15 minsOverall
Real Salt Lake1912+7+14
Kansas City105+5+15
New England139+4+8
San Jose106+4-10
New York1614+2+11
FC Dallas1414E-2
LA Galaxy1218-6+10
Toronto FC614-8-19
D.C. United311-8-29
Chivas USA622-16-25
So I set out to see how Houston and New England ranked within MLS as late-game success stories, and the numbers I found across the league surprised me in a few ways. Check out the table at right, which lists teams' goals for and goals against in the final 15 minutes, as well as how that goal differential compares to their overall goal differential.

I am not going to try to identify all general trends in this data; for one thing, it's too small a sample size. But I see some really interesting notes about different teams:
  • Houston, Philadelphia, San Jose, and Dallas are the only teams whose goal differentials in the final 15 minutes are BETTER than their overall GD.
  • Incredible efforts by Seattle (2 goals allowed) and Portland (4) in terms of late defense. It's very hard to keep that up over a whole season, and since I think of defense as tending to be more consistent than offense, I think it bodes well for their postseason chances. Obviously, Houston, KC, and Colorado (5) are right behind.
  • I would not have guessed that the LA Galaxy would be -6 in the final 15 minutes and have the league's 2nd-worst late defense, better only than Chivas USA. Yet they still have that +10 overall goal differential.
  • Seeing Seattle, Real Salt Lake, Portland, and Kansas City all in the top five in late goal differential just seems to make sense, since all four feel like quality MLS Cup contenders.
  • The identical -6 late goal differentials of Montreal and LA make me a little less confident on their chances for playoff success.
  • Interesting to note the contrast in late-game fortune for strugglers D.C. United and Chivas USA. D.C. is -21 in the first 75' of a game (presumably, the result in D.C. games is usually decided before the last 15'), while Chivas is only -9 in the first 75' and tends to get punished late.

The most interesting question this raises to me is: Are the final 15 minutes a better or worse indicator of how good a team is? In some respects, you should put more stock in performance over the first 75 minutes than the last 15, because it's a larger sample size. But at the same time, the ability to pull out a late result and come through "in the clutch," to use a sports cliche, is one that is highly valued.

In MLS circles, one has to think of last year's San Jose Earthquakes, who scored 20 goals from the 76th minute on en route to the Supporters' Shield title, which was widely considered an over-achievement. They promptly fell in the playoffs, going a damning -3 in the first 75' of games in their two-leg playoff series, while only compensating with 2 goals in the final 15'.

What this means for New England vs. Houston
Is Houston's -7 goal differential in the first 75 minutes of games this year a sign that the Dynamo are just not that good? Perhaps they will regress to the mean, allow some late goals, and fail to reach the postseason. Or is their +8 goal differential in the final 15 minutes an indicator that they save their best for when it counts the most, as seen in their recent playoff runs? Perhaps they will make another deep run. Or can the difference be explained by the suffocating Houston heat, which wears down opponents and allows Houston to pounce late in home games? That actually is not the case, as Houston is +9 at home and -8 on the road, but in the final 15 minutes, the Dynamo are +4 both at home (6-2) and on the road (7-3).

New England, meanwhile, is a more conventional +4 at home (8-4) and even on the road (5-5), but it should be noted that the Revolution began the year allowing six late goals, yet they are now +10 in the final 15 minutes since losing at home to Real Salt Lake on May 8 (both RSL goals came in the final 15). The goal that turned the tide was Juan Agudelo's 84th-minute tally to clinch a 2-0 win at Houston on May 18. The Dynamo returned the favor with a 79th-minute game-winner from Adam Moffat at New England on July 13, though Moffat is no longer with the club. So maybe we're in for yet another late goal on Saturday night!

This list creates more questions than answers, which is part of the fun. But my larger point is that I hope media and fans factor in late goals scored AND allowed when considering a team's late fortunes.

17 September 2013

Blame it on the rain (well, actually, blame it on the lightning)

When traveling to work on a broadcast, things are usually pretty simple. Fly in the day before, stay two nights in a hotel, and head home the day after the game. But things were a little different for Saturday’s FC Dallas-Colorado Rapids broadcast, and it almost got me in trouble.

Weather delays -- not part of the plan
You see, I am currently in the middle of moving to New York City, a big deal on the personal side that probably deserves several posts of its own. Since I need to use as much of my time as possible to look for an affordable and passable place to live, my trip to Denver was a whirlwind that involved flying out that morning and flying out that night. What nobody had counted on was the Colorado weather, which almost derailed those carefully laid plans.

My outbound trip was smooth enough, catching an early morning flight out of LaGuardia Airport, connecting in Dallas-Fort Worth (where I ran into an old friend from Rice University), and arriving in Denver before noon. Even a little construction on I-70 didn’t keep me from getting to the hotel (kindly reserved even though I had no intention of spending the night), getting lunch with broadcast partner Brian Dunseth, and catching up with two close friends from college.

But the skies turned threatening in the late afternoon, and as I drove to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Dunny and I found ourselves plotting how we could stay as dry as possible while running through a downpour to the stadium. The stadium exit was closed off due to flooding, so we had to U-turn and find our way back. Thankfully, the downpour had not yet reached the stadium, so we made it to the press box without having to dance between the raindrops.

Pretty soon, however, lightning started to flash in the distance, and that’s when things got nervy. Any lightning strike in the area requires at least a 30-minute wait before the teams take the field. Soon the possibility of a delayed kickoff came up, and that was an issue for me.

Knowing that soccer games reliably last two hours, I had assumed that I had plenty of time from the game ending (9 p.m. MT) to my flight’s departure (1 a.m. MT) to go back to the hotel, change, return my rental car, and check in for the flight. But a delay, especially one that threatened to go as long as two hours, could have made that impossible. There was also the worrying possibility that the game would be canceled, and that seemed to mean arranging a new flight and calling the game the next morning without a partner (Brian had other Sunday commitments).

Kickoff was initially pushed back to 7:52 p.m. MT, but there was strong speculation in the broadcast booth that it might not actually get underway until 8:30. And that wasn’t even factoring in the possibility of an in-game delay. So I was sweating the timing just a bit.

Once we taped our open, all went smoothly.
We went on-air briefly at 7 p.m. to let TXA 21 viewers back in Dallas know that the game had been delayed, and then we sat and waited. We taped the opening segment of our show a few minutes later, as the players warmed up in the rain, and thankfully no more lightning appeared. In fact, the rain itself had stopped by kickoff, and the game was played on a slick but safe field, and a surprisingly healthy crowd stuck around to see it.

Reunited with Brian Dunseth.
I felt like we ended up with a very good broadcast, discussing both teams’ seasons when the game had a little less action, and talking about tactical changes and the implications of the game once it kicked into high gear. Unfortunately for our viewers back in Dallas, FCD let a 1-goal lead slip away, and Colorado took a big step toward the post season.

Fortunately for me, the game ended on time, and while I drove pretty aggressively on my way out of the stadium and then from the hotel to the airport, I really had plenty of time. Even a wait for my rental-car bus and the crazy Arizona State-Wisconsin ending couldn’t keep me from making my flight and arriving at New York’s JFK Airport early Sunday morning.
Given the conditions in Colorado,
13,145 was a great crowd.

In the future, however, I think I’d like to keep things simple. 

12 August 2013

My Salt Lake trip in photos

My trip to Salt Lake City to call Saturday's RSL-Houston game felt like a bit of a whirlwind -- mostly because I flew out on a red-eye the night after the game. But I managed to find time to snap a few photos of the Salt Lake City scenery and the pre-broadcast preparation. Here's a look:

View from the plane of the Great Salt Lake.

I walked by the Salt Lake City and County Building on Saturday morning.

I also happened by the Matheson Courthouse.

My first time entering Rio Tinto Stadium through the main entrance.

One of the league's most dramatic backdrops ...

... and the broadcast truck preparing to highlight those Wasatch Mountains.

With Sebastian and Eddie ... can't wear an orange tie EVERY game!

Almost ready for real kickoff ...
... but the show is already off and running.

05 August 2013

RSL-Houston thoughts: More late drama or another scoreless draw?

Jason Kreis is hoping to avoid a third consecutive
stoppage-time defeat against Houston.
I’m back on the MLS airwaves this weekend with a chance to step in for Glenn Davis and call Saturday’s Real Salt Lake-Houston game on Comcast Sportsnet Plus in Houston. I’m really excited for just about every aspect of this broadcast: working with Eddie Robinson and the Comcast crew, calling a game with the dramatic backdrop provided by Rio Tinto Stadium, and of course the matchup itself.

It’s not a rivalry game in the traditional sense (no geographic ties or playoff matchups), but I’ve been at nine of the last 10 games between these teams, and they’ve all been intense. The reason, to me, is a simple one: Even among MLS head coaches, who have to be competitive by nature, head coaches Dominic Kinnear and Jason Kreis stand out as two of the most intensely competitive personalities in American soccer. Their teams are skilled, but physical, and games between these two have always been closely contested – out of 16 head-to-head contests, 14 have been decided by one goal or less.

Here are some early thoughts on the game:

Despite Houston’s dominance in the all-time series (8-3-5 all-time, 6-1-4 since August 2007), Salt Lake has to be considered the favorite on Saturday. RSL is tied for the Supporters’ Shield lead (38 points from 23 games), leads the league in goals per game (1.65), and has the league’s goals against average leader in Nick Rimando (0.89). More importantly, the game is in Utah, where RSL has a 3-1-4 all-time edge. Three of the last four games between the teams in Utah have finished 0-0 (2008, 2009, 2011), and the other was a resounding RSL win. For an idea of Houston’s perspective, the 2009 game was the very rare instance I can recall of Kinnear playing for a draw almost from the start (started in a 4-5-1 formation with Kei Kamara at right midfield).

On the other hand, Salt Lake might be vulnerable at the moment. It will be RSL’s third game in eight days, and if media quotes are to be believed, Wednesday’s Open Cup semifinal against Portland is considered a higher priority. Salt Lake's last two home games have seen them collect just one point, with a player ejected each time. And after an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions, RSL is winless in its last three games, including two gutting stoppage-time losses.

Hmm, stoppage-time losses. Sounds familiar. Houston has beaten Salt Lake in their last two head-to-head meetings on goals in the 93rd and 94th minutes, respectively. After last year's Colin Clark PK, Jason Kreis had that classic, stone-faced, I-can't-believe-that-just-happened look, and we saw it again when RSL lost to New York on Saturday. But both teams actually have a flair for the dramatic. In the final 15 minutes of games this year, RSL leads MLS with 15 goals scored, but has allowed 9 goals (+6 goal differential). Houston is second-best in MLS with only 3 goals allowed and has scored 10 of its own (+7 goal differential). So we could see some dramatics on Saturday night. After all, the last time I called a Houston-Real Salt Lake game, this happened:

22 July 2013

How Matthew Foerster got stoppage time correct in the RSL-KC game

I didn’t watch the Real Salt Lake-Sporting Kansas City game on Saturday night. But when I got ready to turn in for the night, my Twitter feed told me the game was still 1-1 in stoppage time, with RSL down a man, and I figured I’d check out the climax.

Sporting Kansas City had just enough time to score the winning goal.
What I got, of course, was one of the latest, most dramatic goals of the year, as Kansas City’s Ike Opara headed in a corner kick in the seventh minute of stoppage time to give Sporting the win. Much of the post-game controversy surrounded the referee, Matthew Foerster, including both his performance throughout the game and why 5 minutes of stoppage time had been announced, but 7 minutes and 20 seconds were played.

Having not watched the game, I cannot speak to Foerster’s performance in terms of fouls and cards. But having watched (and now re-watched, with a stopwatch) stoppage time, I can tell you his assessment of stoppage time was spot-on.

Stoppage time exists because the referee stops the game clock (either literally, via his watch, or mentally, by noting the time) at certain points during the game. These stoppages can be for injuries, goals, cards, substitutions, excessive time-wasting, and the like. Every game has stoppage time, so most of these are not unusual. The amount of stoppage time announced by the fourth official (in this case, a big ‘5’ was displayed to the stadium) is a minimum, and is announced as such in the stadium by the public address announcer.

So why were RSL and KC still playing in the eighth minute of stoppage time on Saturday? Because there were stoppages during stoppage time. By my calculation, in terms of actual playing time, Saturday’s game had 4 minutes and 58 seconds of stoppage time. Right on the money.

Here’s how I figured it:

In the 92nd minute, Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales was fouled and fell to the ground. Shortly afterward, he grabbed his knee and rolled over. I stopped my watch at 91:14, when he first rolled over. The referee, Foerster, came over to Morales without blowing his whistle, so I can’t say for sure when he stopped the game clock, but I know that Foerster re-blew his whistle at 92:05, calling for the game to resume. That’s 51 seconds.

In the 96th minute on the television clock (about 94:24 on mine), Foerster breaks up a scuffle between players from both teams in the penalty area. He blows his whistle to stop play at 95:15 and restarts play at 95:58. That’s 43 seconds.

So while the game clock read 95:58, and Real Salt Lake fans were thinking the game should have been over a minute earlier, the amount of stoppage time played was well under five minutes. In fact, Graham Zusi struck the corner kick at 4:46 on my watch, and Opara’s header found the back of the net at 4:49.

I stopped my watch for another 45 seconds during the Kansas City celebration, although we cannot be sure for how long Foerster stopped his, which leads us to our final total of 7:17 on the television clock, but 4:59 on the actual clock.

So everyone is entitled to have their say about Foerster's decisions and game management, but I hope they will re-consider their criticism of the amount of stoppage time. Five minutes was announced, and five minutes was played.

Here’s a spreadsheet summarizing the stoppage time played:

Start timeEnd timeElapsed

11 July 2013

Breakfast of champions

A breakfast I would advise you try: banana pancakes. ... With ice cream on top. Seriously. What could be better? Maybe you could mix and match some flavors of both pancake and ice cream, but the general concept of ice cream on top of pancakes seems hard to beat.

That's right - that's ice cream, not butter, adorning this stack.

08 July 2013

Right place, right time to call spectacular Nagbe goal

I had a great chance to work with an up-and-coming organization in MLS, the Portland Timbers, on a game a few weeks back. This is a club that puts a lot of resources into its broadcasts and has already seen its television play-by-play broadcaster, John Strong, hired as the new (American!) voice of MLS on NBC Sports.

Booth shot in Frisco.
So when the Timbers asked me if I was available to provide the radio call for their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal against FC Dallas on June 26 (I'm only a 3-hour drive away), I was psyched to do it.

It had been about 20 months since I had done radio play-by-play, so I felt a little rusty at times, but the game had a terrific second half and one wonderful goal, and it was a really fun experience from start to finish. I'm hoping to produce more extended highlights at some point, but here are the calls from the Timbers' big plays, including Darlington Nagbe's spectacular solo effort:

As an added bonus, I've been called on by Comcast Houston to do play-by-play for the Houston Dynamo's August 10 game against Real Salt Lake. Can't get enough MLS action!

01 July 2013

Fun with news typos

This was up on CBSNews.com (and Google News' top result) for at least 30 minutes on Monday afternoon, despite my best efforts (in red) to fix it:

I have made my share of typos -- I once sent out a press release with "El Pason" in the subject line instead of "El Paso" -- but when a typo like this appears in headline, lede, and page header (not pictured), and nobody at a major news site catches it for 30 minutes, it's kind of jaw-dropping.

EDIT: After about 30 minutes online, the offending typos have been fixed. Of course, the URL remains "lightening," but I suppose correcting a permalink would have been too much to ask:

19 June 2013

Baseball highlights with my voice? It's been far too long ...

It's been seven years since I called baseball games on any kind of regular basis - long live the 2006 United League champion Alexandria Aces! - but I jumped back into a brief bit of regular work when I called the Western Athletic Conference baseball tournament for the WAC website last month.

I had a blast! It was so great to go to the ballpark for a game every day (three games per day, in fact, and 3.5 on Saturday) and be able to feel myself getting back into the rhythm of things as the tournament went on. Don't get me wrong, I love working other sports, too, but the every-day nature of baseball makes it different. Not better or worse, but different, and I had missed it.

I would like to work some baseball games in the future, of course, so I'm currently working on a new baseball demo reel, which I should finish by the end of the week. In the mean time, however, I put together a highlight video with some of the best plays (and calls) from the tournament. Check it out here:

Looking back on the tournament, I got to see a bunch of really rare baseball plays, all packed into one tournament. Check these out:
  • TRIPLE PLAY - turned by CSU Bakersfield against San Jose State in Game 2. (Unfortunately, this occurred during a technical glitch, so no recording exists. A long-term lament of mine.)
  • DOUBLE STEAL OF 2ND/HOME - pulled off by UTSA in Sunday's championship game against Dallas Baptist.
  • TWO RUNS SCORE ON WILD PITCH - (with the caveat that there was a throwing error mixed in), when New Mexico State ran the bases aggressively in Game 8.
  • WALK-OFF HOME RUN - provided by UTSA's R.J. Perucki in the tournament opener against Sacramento State.
  • 14-INNING GAME - the longest I have ever called, also in the tournament opener.
  • INSIDE-THE-PARK HOME RUN - pulled off by Texas State's Kevin Sah in Game 12 against UT-Arlington.
  • BASEBALL STUCK IN CATCHER'S MASK - (breaking the catcher's nose in the process), which happened to the incredibly unfortunate Cael Brockmeyer from CSU Bakersfield in the Saturday-morning resumption of Game 9.
There were plenty of normal big plays - home runs, double plays, big strikeouts, and plays at the plate - but every one of the above plays is something totally out of the ordinary. I've gone entire minor-league seasons without seeing any of those happen, and I got to call all of them in five days last month. Not too shabby.

07 June 2013

On the job again, in a new role

CSN Houston broadcast team in tight quarters in Columbus:
from left to right: Sebastian Salazar, Glenn Davis, me.
I got to work on back-to-back weekends recently, as I was fortunate enough to fill in for Eddie Robinson as the color analyst on the CSN Houston broadcast of the Houston Dynamo's game against the Columbus Crew last Saturday.

Having covered Major League Soccer regularly since 2007 and followed it closely since 2001, I had no trouble getting familiar with both teams. But my role - that of color analyst - is one I have rarely filled in the past. My only other outing as an analyst came with a play-by-play man who did not know soccer, so my role was mostly to fill in the details. That came in stark contrast to Saturday's game, as my play-by-play partner, Glenn Davis, is one of the most respected soccer broadcasters in the country and has plenty of experience in both play-by-play and color roles. In fact, the only previous time that Glenn and I worked a game together, the 2011 MLS Cup final, our roles were reversed.

The Preparation

I know how the analyst's role works, of course, but I still wanted some advice on how to keep my analysis succinct and useful, how to watch the game, and generally how to be effective. So I made phone calls to Brian Dunseth, a colleague and friend who calls games for just about everybody in American soccer, and a less familiar acquaintance, NBC Sports analyst Kyle Martino. I also talked with Glenn on the day of the game to ask his advice.

They all gave different answers, of course, which was interesting in its own right, but here are four of the keys I used - or tried to use - in approaching Saturday's assignment:
  • Know your role.
    Obvious, but important: when to talk and what to say. As the analyst, it was not my job to provide the basic information of score, minute, subs, player background. Analysts also need to lay out - or get out, if they're in the middle of talking - when the ball reaches the final third of the field. For me specifically, however, it also meant trying to avoid over-reaching. I'm not a former player and cannot provide that exact perspective. My strength is my knowledge of the league, its teams, and their history, so I tried to put things in context, like pointing out that the Crew's only wins came against the three worst teams in the league, and keep historical trends in mind, such as five of the teams' last eight meetings ending in a tie.
  • Get your rhythm.
    Both Dunseth and Martino stressed finding a rhythm with your play-by-play announcer. The pacing of the back-and-forth is very important, as you don't want to step on each other or detract from what the other is saying. I tried to play it safe in the early going, only chiming in when I was sure it was the right time, but I grew more confident as the game went on, and I think Glenn and I worked out a good understanding.
  • Keep the big picture in mind.
    Another point that appeared consistently, though with several meanings. This can mean analyzing a play in the context of the season or a player's development (i.e. "This run by Sarkodie is exactly what the Dynamo were hoping to see when they drafted him, and they're starting to see it more often as he matures") or it can mean looking behind the play, off-camera, for the positioning of the back line as its team moves into attack. Given the luxury of being in the building for an away game, rather than calling it from a studio, the broadcasters need to take advantage of being able to see everything that's going on. This was helpful throughout, especially being able to spot how the Houston bench was reacting to on-field injuries and which players were warming up to come in.
  • Answers the questions, "Why?" and "How?"
    This might be the most important perspective to maintain as an analyst. All three guys that I talked to used some form of this as some of their main advice. Rather than only narrating the replay, try to answer those questions: Why did the play happen the way it did? How does this affect the team, the game, or the season?
    I'm not entirely sure if I kept my head enough to pull this off on a consistent basis or not. Once I get to watch the tape, I'll have a better idea, but this is certainly one of the areas in which I need the most work if and when I get to work another game as analyst.
A couple of other suggestions I heard in discussing the role of analyst: keep constant eye on the shape of the back four, try to break the game into short segments to assess which team is playing better, don't get stuck talking only about what's on-screen, and always ask, "Am I adding to or distracting from the game?"
Highlighter-themed uniform night?

The Game

So those were some of the things I was trying to do. On the whole, I felt the broadcast went pretty well. As I mentioned, I got a lot more comfortable and confident as the game went on. There may have been a couple of slight, "Who, ME?" moments before I remembered it was my job to talk through the replays!

I realized afterward that I missed a great chance to reference a stat I had written down: Kofi Sarkodie had three assists in his first six games but had not recorded one in seven games since. On Saturday, he made a terrific run down the right and cross to Warren Creavalle for the opening goal, but I was so caught up in how cool the goal was - really a classy move all the way around - that it slipped my mind. Definitely an opportunity missed.

Working on the broadcast also meant being part of a 30-minute pre-game show and 30-minute post-game show, which you don't find on many MLS broadcasts. The pre-game show turned out to be a lot of fun. We had a meeting about it Saturday morning, and I got a great rundown from our producer, Kevin Cedergren. It was my first time working with CSN's Sebastian Salazar, who flew in on the day of the game after watching Mexico-Nigeria the night before, and I think Sebastian, Glenn, and I got into a pretty good rhythm right away. We tried to have fun with the pre-game show - I think I interrupted both of them to suggest a "road trip!" to the Open Cup game against Dallas - and it actually went pretty quickly. Unfortunately, there were some technical issues that meant it was not widely seen in Houston, so that was frustrating to find out after the fact.

One of the highlights of the day was seeing former Dynamo president Oliver Luck, somebody who's been very helpful in my career, as he stopped by after making the two-hour drive from his current job as athletic director at West Virginia University. His son, Andrew (you may have heard of him) said hello as well, so I assume the Crew fans in front of us were gawking more at Andrew than at Oliver, Glenn, or me. Andrew has always been a class act in my limited interactions with him, but I will admit to being a little surprised when I discovered that he is the rare 21st-century athlete who is NOT on Twitter.

So it was a great night to be calling an MLS game again, and I definitely enjoyed my different role and working with Glenn, Sebastian, and the CSN team. I wouldn't mind doing it again some time, but hopefully without all the injuries that we saw in the game!

27 May 2013

Lasting images from this weekend's WAC tournament

The broadcast setup w/ digital notes, generously loaned
headset, scorebook, water, hard-copy notes.
Hard at work.
I'm pretty exhausted after calling 13 baseball games in five days, but it's a good feeling. I really enjoyed researching all the teams and then seeing them in action, and the Western Athletic Conference staff did a great job of welcoming me for the week.

I hope to get some highlights (with video) and a demo reel put together in the next few weeks to look back at the tournament and my latest return to the baseball airwaves, but some cell-phone photos are going to have to do for now:

Some guy with a sore throat.
Official baseball of the 2013 WAC championship! and a
scorebook page ready for championship-game lineups.

More than 30 scouts were on hand to watch
Dallas Baptist's Jake Johansen throw 98-101 mph.
Front entrance of QuikTrip Park.

We played until 10 or 11 p.m. on more than one occasion,
particularly due to some lightning delays.
It may be an artificial turf field, but preparing it
(and maintaining it) still takes some work!

25 May 2013

Why Friday night game was delayed

'Borrowed' from Twitter.

Um yeah, good decision. It's tough on both teams (UTSA, CSU Bakersfield) to have to get up, mentally, for such a big game the next morning, and it's terrible to affect both teams' starting pitchers, but Friday night's game had to be delayed. It will resume Saturday morning at 10 a.m. CT.

24 May 2013

A Fernando sighting!?

Courtesy WACSports.com
Kind of looks like I was calling a game pitched by Fernando Valenzuela on Thursday, doesn't it?

That's actually CSU Bakersfield senior lefty Jonathan Montoya, who stands just 5-foot-8 and throws a mean change-up. He was part of Bakersfield's first recruiting class and holds the school record with 20 career wins, including the Roadrunners' win over Sacramento State in both teams' second game of the WAC tournament.

For more on the WAC tournament, visit Tournament Central. I'll try to have some highlights up in the next couple of weeks.

23 May 2013

Great 1st day in the books at WAC tourney

Whenever I get the chance to attend a baseball game, I'm reminded of how much I love the sport and most of what goes on around it. I have a particular affinity for the college game, having been deeply involved in it as a college student, and Wednesday's opening day of the WAC Tournament in Grand Prairie, Texas, was a reminder of plenty of the great things about college baseball.

Of primary importance, of course, were the games. All three were competitive, two very close, and one - the opener - provided a lasting memory. UTSA and Sacramento State battled into 14 innings with great pitching and one dramatic double play before R.J. Perucki led off the bottom of the 14th with a no-doubt, walk-off home run to deep left field. My call may not have been an epic one, but given that it was my first baseball game in two years, I felt OK about the result -- check it out here courtesy of UTSA's Soundcloud account.

The middle game had some of that college spirit, as the very vocal San Jose State dugout made up for a slight lack of crowd noise, with both SJSU and CSU Bakersfield understandably bringing very few fans to Texas. Nothing like a little bench jockeying to provide some atmosphere!

The nightcap featured the two co-hosts, UT-Arlington and Dallas Baptist, and had by far the best atmosphere of the games. I could let the game breathe for 10-15 seconds at a time, and the ambient noise in the stadium sounded like a baseball game anywhere in the country. It was a tense one, too, with UT-Arlington starter Brad Vachon recovering from a rough 2nd inning to pitch into the 8th inning, allowing only two hits and striking out 11. An amazing performance, considering there were relievers throwing in the bullpen almost every inning.

One day in the books and four more to go here in Grand Prairie - let's hope the whole tournament is this much fun!

21 May 2013

Players to watch at the WAC baseball tournament

NMSU's Bobby Lecount led the WAC in OPS this year.
I'm on my way to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex today to call the 2013 WAC Baseball Championship at QuikTrip Park in Grand Prairie. The games - three per day until Sunday's championship game - can be seen on WACSports.tv.

Here are a few of the individuals who have caught my eye while preparing for the tournament, all well worth watching this week:

CSUB – LHP Jeff McKenzie was a struggling junior college outfielder two years ago when his team ran out of pitchers in the highly competitive California state tournament. Having thrown only five innings all year, McKenzie took the hill and threw a complete-game victory. CSU Bakersfield offered him a scholarship based on that performance, and he has repaid the favor with a 2.67 ERA last year and an amazing 12-2, 1.79 line in 2013. His streak of 11 consecutive wins was broken last Friday by San Jose State, who he could face in Wednesday’s opener.

UT-Arlington – DH Matt Shortall is from the Dallas area and transferred back to home from Tulane after the 2011 season. Think he’s important to his team’s offense? Consider that he has 21 more RBI (54) than the next closest teammate (33).

Texas State – RHP Austen Williams had a minor role in Texas State’s bullpen in the first month of the season, but he has been nearly untouchable since March 3, allowing just two earned runs in his last 22 innings (0.82 ERA), lowering his season ERA from 11.37 to 2.93. Williams, closer Hunter Lemke (1.42 ERA in his last 38 innings), and lefty Donnie Hart (2.21 ERA) make for the league’s top bullpen.

UTSA – C John Bormann has thrown out an amazing 29 of 49 runners trying to steal against him this year (59 percent!) and has picked 14 runners off first base. It's hard to find context for how impressive those numbers are. I can't find a list of NCAA leaders (they apparently don't deal with fielding stats), but UTSA informs me Bormann ranks 2nd in the country in throwing out runners and first in runners picked off. The best college arm I've ever seen, that of Rice catcher Justin Ruchti, threw out 60 percent of runners (23/38) in the 2003 national-championship season. An arm like that behind the plate really limits the options for opposing teams to move baserunners.

Sacramento State – 1B Chris Lewis was told by head coach Reggie Christiansen that he should go to junior college before trying to contribute at Sacramento State. Lewis said, ‘No thanks’ and enrolled, took a redshirt last year, and proceeded to light up the WAC this year to the tune of .396/.439/.545 in conference play. Lewis gets good lineup protection from 2012 WAC Player of the Year Andrew Ayers, and both will need to play big roles if the Hornets, who were 9th in the WAC in hitting, can perform better at the plate in the postseason.

New Mexico State – 3B Bobby Lecount is a Moneyball type of player who seems to personify New Mexico State’s hitting philosophy. He walks a lot, strikes out a lot, and hits for serious power. In WAC play, he ranked first in OPS (1256), slugging (.778), OBP (.478), and walks (21) and finished 2nd in home runs (9) while striking out once per game.

Dallas Baptist – 3B Duncan McAlpine erupted with a 10-for-16 series against Texas State last weekend that included 4 home runs, and 11 RBI to finish first in the WAC in conference home runs (12) and second in slugging (.697). He is one of several ringleaders of the Patriots’ grip-it-and-rip-it offense on a team with serious postseason experience.

San Jose State – RHP Kyle Hassna was the Spartans’ main weapon out of the bullpen for most of the year, but he stepped into the starting rotation near the end of the season and provided a very strong start against CSU Bakersfield. If he can pitch in the vicinity of his 2.50 ERA in the tournament, it gives the undermanned Spartans a fighting chance in an extra game.

20 May 2013

Calling this week's WAC baseball tournament

In a departure from most of my recent broadcasting and blogging but a return to my roots, I’m really excited to be calling the Western Athletic Conference baseball tournament this week in Grand Prairie, Texas. I started my broadcasting career in college baseball in 2002 at Rice University, which was in the WAC at the time (although there was no conference tournament then) and I’ve been trying to find college baseball work all season, so this is going to be a lot of fun.

The tournament has two groups of four teams each, combining for three games per day from Wednesday-Saturday. That’s right, games at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. (all Central Time) all by my lonesome for four days in a row. Then a one-off championship game on Sunday. It’s going to be crazy. And hot, I’m thinking, thanks to the artificial turf at QuikTrip Park. You can check out the games at WACSports.tv, although it looks like there will be a charge to watch games.

I’ve been studying the WAC teams intently for the last two weeks, and here’s a very quick look at the teams in the tournament and some of their characteristics.

The favorites:
CSU Bakersfield led the league throughout the regular season thanks to its outstanding pitching, but the Roadrunners dropped their final series of the season to San Jose State, which is the team they will face first on Wednesday. CSU Bakersfield is only in its fifth season of D-I baseball and is looking for its first NCAA tournament berth.
UT-Arlington claimed a share of the regular-season title after an impressive three-game sweep of Sacramento State on the final weekend of the year. The Mavericks reached the NCAA tournament last year after winning the Southland Conference and have a balanced squad with a strong bullpen.
Texas State led the league in OPS and was second in ERA during conference play, including the league’s best bullpen. But the Bobcats slipped to third place because of their atrocious defense. In one four-game stretch last week, they made 19 errors, and they field at a .957 clip, by far the worst in the league.

In the mix:
Sacramento State came agonizingly close to its first NCAA tournament berth last year, needing to win one of two games against Fresno State in the WAC tournament final, but losing the second in an epic, 13-inning loss. The Hornets built their success on pitching and defense, but both seemed to desert them in last weekend’s series loss to UT-Arlington. If their pitching rebounds this week, they’re a big threat.
Unsung UTSA also passed Sacramento State on that final weekend, and the Roadrunners are interesting as an aggressive hitting team that does not rely on power. They swing early and often in the count and may have just enough quality arms to make a run.
After reaching NCAA regionals the last two years (and the super regionals in 2011) as an independent, Dallas Baptist spent its lone year in the WAC as the preseason favorite. The swing-from-their-heels Patriots are all power, all the time at the plate, but their pitching and defense have not matched expectations.
New Mexico State also made the NCAA tournament last year after winning the WAC regular season. The Aggies always put up big offensive numbers in terms of power, walks, and strikeouts, and this team is no exception. The pitching staff has powerful arms but ranked last in the WAC in ERA.

Long shot:
San Jose State squeaked in the tournament by taking two of the three games against CSU Bakersfield on the season’s final weekend, with both wins coming in the final at-bat. The Spartans hit for average without much power and really do not have the pitching depth needed to win four games in a row, but stranger things have definitely happened.

If I learned one thing from following WAC baseball over the last several weeks, it’s that very few games go according to either team’s plane, and lots of late lead changes are the norm. Most importantly, I don’t think any of the teams are in the running for an at-large bid to the tournament, so they’re all going to be playing desperate baseball throughout. Should be an exciting week!

11 April 2013

The demo reel

Those of us trying to make a career in broadcasting have quickly learned that it takes a lot more than a deep voice or a knowledge of sports to find work on the airwaves. It takes preparation, connections, practice, and a little bit of luck. But one of the most important calling cards – and part of the process that you can control – is the demo reel. (Here's my current crop)

Making a demo reel is no simple task. It is completely impractical to make a separate reel for each job one applies for, yet each hiring manager is looking for something different. One network may value letting the game breathe, while another may value over-the-top histrionics. Some may prioritize play-by-play work, some may be most focused on your comfort level in front of a camera, and still others most want to hear how you call the big play. A demo reel should find a way to impact any viewer.

This year I’m trying to raise the level of my demos by adding some excitement up front. I may be laid-back, but I like to think I know when to get excited, and I need to show that to producers.

So for my latest soccer demo, I gathered some of my favorite calls from the last four years of soccer broadcasting. As you may imagine, this was half the fun! Looking back on some of the most dramatic and memorable moments from the past few years (and evaluating my call of the play) probably took up the better part of 2-3 days. I went back through my highlight DVDs from the 2009 and 2010 Dynamo seasons and looked at most of my televised broadcasts from 2011-12, wrote down what I thought were the best calls and plays to grab someone’s attention, and then began to narrow the list.

The finalists amounted to about 12 minutes of footage, and that’s without almost anything from the 2011 Dynamo season, since I don’t have easy access to video from that year. Since I was aiming to keep the total demo around 10 minutes long, and I still had to fit in some play-by-play, cuts were a necessity.

As I narrowed things down, I also had to choose between putting all the highlights together or splitting up the radio and television calls. Since so much of my career has been in radio, and those are some of my most passionate calls, I definitely wanted them in there. But games are called very differently between radio and television, so in the end, I decided to split up the radio and television calls, labeling them appropriately.

Once I had the highlights down to about 5 minutes, 30 seconds, I had to identify a good on-camera clip so that television producers know what I look like. Last year was my first year in television, and it definitely took me a little while to get comfortable in front of a camera. I wound up going with part of the demo that helped land my ESPN3 work last year, an opening with Brian Dunseth from a Dallas-Philadelphia game.

I wanted to use a different game as an example of play-by-play, but after checking out a few clips, I decided it was important not to use a game I called remotely from a studio. While it is a skill in its own right, calling a game from studio does restrict your sense of atmosphere and does not allow for the sort of perspective I tend to use in a broadcast. So I picked a five-minute segment from a Dallas-Seattle game that included chances at both ends and a discussion with partner Ian Joy about the importance of a halftime substitution.

In the end, I've got a video less than 15 minutes long that should give you an idea of what I bring to the table as a soccer announcer. Hopefully it does the trick! Here's the final product: