27 May 2014

Looking back on Seattle broadcast: Memorable for me, less so for the Sounders

All smiles before the game began, of course.
I had the chance to step in as a replacement play-by-play broadcaster on the Seattle Sounders' May 11 broadcast, but I'm not sure I'm going to be asked back any time soon.

Seattle came in on a five-game winning streak but suffered a 5-0 loss, its worst in six years of MLS regular-season play. We all know broadcasters have nothing to do with results, but it sure didn't look good for me. I have several college friends who live in Seattle and were excited to watch the game, but as you can see, their excitement quickly turned to frustration:
The Sounders' production team, from the excellent behind-the-scenes staff led by Brian O'Connell to vibrant pre-game hosts Jackie Montgomery and Taylor Graham and my unfortunately under-the-weather partner Kasey Keller, was extremely welcoming and great to work with. And of course the man for whom I filled in, Ross Fletcher, provided an excellent scouting report on the show format and some storylines when we talked during the week.

Interviewing Lamar Neagle from afar.
The Sounders communication staff and team personnel were also helpful - I talked briefly with defender Chad Marshall on Saturday, then had pre-game production meetings with head coach Sigi Schmid and defender Brad Evans on Sunday, finally interviewing Lamar Neagle for the pre-game show. Full credit to Sigi Schmid for enduring a halftime interview with his team down 4-0 and his voice starting to go.

My favorite two hours.
As for the broadcast itself, I definitely wish I could have another crack at the pre-game show. As always with a new show, there's a level of comfort that would be there the second time around but isn't present right away. It wasn't bad, but just something I know I could have done better. I felt very good about the in-game play-by-play, but of course it didn't create many happy memories for Sounders fans.

We were fortunate enough to be a little bit prescient in highlighting Revolution wing Diego Fagundez. He's one of the players I most enjoy watching in MLS but had been scoreless in 2014. During the week, I looked up the numbers and found that his nine starts without scoring a goal was the longest such streak of his young career, a stat I had not seen anywhere else. He also had a great track record against Seattle. Unfortunately for the Sounders, the trend that continued was him killing Seattle, as he scored twice in the first half. Not good on the field, but you always feel good when something the entire production team chose to highlight ahead of time ends up being relevant to the game itself.

Here's a look at highlights from the game via our broadcast (the league highlights used the home team broadcast in this case):

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Sounders won their next game and tied the next; as of May 27, they remain on a seven-game unbeaten streak (5-0-2) when I am NOT calling their games. I would love to work with these guys again, but I can't say the odds are looking very good.

09 May 2014

Clint Dempsey faces old club for first time, I get to call it! Sounders-Revs on Sunday

In May 2004, Clint Dempsey was a rookie midfielder for the New England Revolution who had broken into the starting lineup and scored a goal, pretty impressive feats for a first-year professional, but hardly something that screamed ‘international-caliber player.’

Ten years later, Dempsey returns to Gillette Stadium to play against the Revolution for the first time, and his game has done plenty of screaming in the intervening decade.

That long-haired rookie is now the captain of the U.S. national team and the most prolific American scorer in the history of the English Premier League. He has been the best player on the field – by a country mile, several times – through the first two months of this MLS season, and he is probably the most entertaining player the league has seen in years, providing a mix of jaw-dropping skill (did you see his behind-the-leg spin pass against Colorado?) and brash attitude (how about his forearm to the head of Philadelphia’s Aaron Wheeler?).

All of that will be on display on Sunday when Dempsey’s Seattle Sounders take on New England, and I will be fortunate enough to call the game for Sounders TV, airing on Q13 FOX in the Seattle area, as a fill-in for play-by-play announcer Ross Fletcher, who will remain with his wife as the birth of their first child approaches. Congratulations to Ross and his family, and thank you to the Sounders for bringing me in! I’m really looking forward to the game.

Besides the sheer fun of watching Dempsey play and the emotions his return will bring, both on the field and in the stands, there are a lot of other storylines headed into this game. Here are a few we’ll be watching closely on Sunday:
  1. Men on Fire – The Sounders have won five straight games, coming from behind in four of the five and getting late game-winners in three. Add in Seattle’s miracle finish in its 4-4 tie with Portland on April 5, and they have used late goals to pull out a result in five of their last six. 
  2. The Fort – New England has not allowed a goal at Gillette Stadium this year, and goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth has only had to make three saves to record his three home shutouts. Despite allowing four goals in their opening (away) game, the Revolution rank fourth in MLS in goals-against-average (1.11), but they’ll be facing a Seattle offense that scores a league-best 2.20 goals per game. 
  3. This is the last game before the United States’ pre-World Cup camp begins, which means Dempsey and Brad Evans (and maybe even DeAndre Yedlin, at least for a little bit?) could miss the next two months of action, so Seattle needs to take advantage of its games with Dempsey and Evans on the field. New England’s only World Cup player is Honduran forward Jerry Bengtson, who has struggled to translate his international goalscoring to MLS and is unlikely to start.
I’m excited just to watch this game, let alone call it alongside a former U.S. national team hero in his own right, Kasey Keller, so it should be a fun weekend in New England!

For Sounders fans who don't know me, I'll sound a little different than what you're used to because I'll be speaking American, but rest assured I have an appreciation for Seattle soccer. Long before the Sounders invented MLS, here I am (on the right) with a couple of college friends at a USL game at Qwest Field back in 2005. Some kind souls in the ECS sold me a scarf for my collection, and I haven't forgotten it!

Oh, and the Sounders won that game.