25 April 2014

Calling three college baseball games this week on ESPN3!

Jack Kaiser Stadium at St. John's earlier this year.
College baseball is one of my (many) sports passions. It's what got me started in broadcasting as a college freshman in 2002, and after living and dying with the fortunes of the Rice baseball team for four years, the sport at this level is fairly well ingrained as something I care about.

In the Northeast, however, it is nowhere near as big a deal as what I experienced in Texas, nor as what they have in California and the Southeast. Probably because it still feels cold outside, and it's April 25!

But I am psyched to be calling college baseball again tonight, Tuesday, and Wednesday, as I cover the storied St. John's program for ESPN3. Not only will these be my first baseball broadcasts since last year's WAC Tournament, but they will be my first baseball games on a full television production. I've called more baseball games than any other sport (literally hundreds), but I haven't called them for TV until now. To prepare, I've been following college baseball all year and even went to see No. 2-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette play when I was in Dallas last weekend.

Tonight I'll have St. John's against Georgetown in a Big East game. (Click here to watch.) It's pretty clear which team is favored. St. John's is 21-4 in its last 25 games, has the best home record (16-1) in the country, and is expected to at least qualify for the Big East Tournament (four of the seven teams make it). Georgetown, on the other hand, hasn't had a winning season since 1986 and is 1-8 in conference play. But the Hoyas have really improved as a program over the last 15 years and had a 25-18 record at one point last year before faltering down the stretch and finishing sub-.500.

The best part about the game, from my perspective, is that it's a Friday-night series opener. There's something special about Fridays in college baseball, when both teams pit their No. 1 starters against each other and try to set the tone for the series.

You would expect St. John's to have the edge in that department, with the experienced James Lomangino (4-4, 3.99 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) on the mound. I saw him two weeks ago against Butler when he tied a career high with 10 strikeouts, and he was very good. On the other side, Georgetown will start Matt Smith (3-5, 3.90 ERA, 1.49 WHIP), whose numbers are similar, although Lomangino is much more of a strikeout pitcher. So there may not be much of a gap between the starters.

The difference is likely to be in the bullpens, where St. John's is deep and very good and Georgetown is erratic, to say the least. We'll see if that scouting report is accurate or not, but I'm excited to see what happens tonight!

I'll also be calling two mid-week games next week, both of which will likely have a different feel in terms of intensity. St. John's will be looking to get work for its pitching staff against Princeton, playing its final game of the year, and Iona, which is struggling this season. At this point in the year, weekend series are priority No. 1, since St. John's path to the NCAA Tournament pretty much has to go through the Big East Tournament.

24 April 2014

What would a fixed U.S. Open Cup bracket look like? Check it out

The 101st edition of the U.S. Open Cup -- a single-elimination tournament open to all soccer teams in the United States -- was announced on Thursday by U.S. Soccer.

The tournament will feature 80 teams, the most in recent history, and be played over eight rounds, with Major League Soccer teams competing in rounds 4-8.

The pairings, however, are only announced two rounds ahead of time, so there's none of the fun speculation and bracket madness we enjoy with other tournaments. Imagine if U.S. Soccer released a bracket in April with all 80 teams. Imagine the pick'ems, the office pools, the bracket challenges!

There are a lot of factors to deal with, most notably long travel for under-funded teams and avoiding head-to-head games between teams and affiliate clubs. I put together a sample bracket, keeping things as even as possible between the bracket and simulating as best as I could a model that prioritizes reasonable travel for MOST matchups.

Here's what I came up with, via two extremely ugly screen captures:

Let me know what you think in the comments below! Would you like to see U.S. Soccer try this model in the future?

16 April 2014

Day 2 broadcast comes through with smiles, jubilation in dramatic finish

After a brutally cold first day and a 0-0 game (albeit an entertaining one), we got great weather on Tuesday and a remarkable game to broadcast. Here's my Day 2 recap for MLSsoccer.com.

Real Salt Lake and Stoke City had been two of the more impressive teams on the opening day of the tournament, and they were pitted against each other on Tuesday. Stoke, however, only had 13 players (which meant only one field-player substitute) due to a red-card suspension. Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, had vocal support in the crowd from a Layton, Utah-based youth club that has produced several players on the RSL Academy roster.

Stoke scored early, but Real Salt Lake controlled much of the first half. RSL head coach Martín Vásquez told his players at halftime that they were affording Stoke too much space, and RSL came out possessed in the second half. They tied the score and dominated the entire half, but when Stoke scored following a free kick in the final minute of regulation, it looked like curtains.

There were several minutes of stoppage time, however, and Salt Lake scored a dramatic tying goal with what turned out to be the last kick of regulation in the third minute of stoppage time! The goal really saved their chances of winning the tournament; otherwise Stoke City would have controlled its own path to the final.

Instead, Real Salt Lake won the shootout to earn an extra point in the standings and provide a memorable ending to our broadcast! After we had tearful injuries on Monday's show, I hoped we would get some jubilation on our next broadcast, and we certainly did.

Here's the full archive of the game -- the frantic finish starts around the 1:24:55 mark:

15 April 2014

Shivering, sniffling through opening-night broadcast at the MLS U-17 championship

Our setup on Monday night
You would think Dallas in late April would be pretty warm, but the weather on Monday at the 2014 Generation adidas Cup was anything but welcoming. With temperatures in the 40s and dropping into the 30s at night (which, of course, included our live broadcast under a full moon), and a strong wind whipping across the exposed complex all day long, everybody on hand was talking about how cold it was.

The broadcast must go on, of course, so at 8 p.m. CT I stepped onto a small podium near the bench of the San Jose Earthquakes U-17 team and called their game against the Chivas Guadalajara U17s. Coaches and kids from both teams were staying at our hotel, so that made it easier than normal to prepare for the game, but there were still a few challenges. For example, Chivas wears thin, navy blue numbers (often in the triple digits) on a background of red and white stripes, which is virtually impossible to see more than 40 yards away. We also did not have replay capabilities on Monday, although we hope to show replays later in the tournament.

The game itself, despite being the only 0-0 tie of the day in the tournament's championship division (my full Day 1 recap is available here), was pretty compelling. Less than three minutes in, we had the heartbreaking site of a San Jose player in tears after suffering an injury and being helped off the field by his teammates. Whatever the injury, you could see the anguish on the kid's face. Luckily, when I checked at halftime, the injury turned out not to be the complete ruptured Achilles the player had feared it to be.

After San Jose dominated the game in terms of scoring chances but was consistently denied by the Chivas goalkeeper, the Mexican club won in a very well-executed shootout, as the teams combined to score on nine of their 10 penalty kicks. One Chivas player had been injured late in the game, after the club had run out of substitutions. So he remained with his team in the center circle for the shootout, then was carried off in tears by a teammate.

While you obviously hope both kids are OK and get to play again in the tournament, it's not every day you call a game book-ended with that kind of emotion. Hopefully we get more elation than anything else throughout the remaining games!

Here's the full archive of the game:

14 April 2014

Set to broadcast six U-17 soccer games at Generation adidas Cup

Quick post - just arrived in the Dallas-Fort Worth MetroPlex on Sunday for a week of broadcasting soccer games for MLSsoccer.com. I'll be calling six games in the Generation adidas Cup, which is the U-17 championship of Major League Soccer. Nine teams qualified for the final around, joined by three international clubs.

Here's a brief preview article I put together for MLSsoccer.com.

The weather conditions are cold and windy, at least for April in Texas, and since we're not working in a stadium with infrastructure but on equipment we set up, there may be some exciting stories ahead!

03 April 2014

Talking in the Rain: Calling 2014's USL PRO vs. MLS Reserve League opener

One week after hosting a pregame show for the New York Red Bulls first team, I got to call play-by-play for the Red Bulls Reserves on Sunday, as they played the Dayton Dutch Lions in a crossover game that counted in the standings both for Dayton in USL PRO (the third division of American soccer) and in the MLS Reserve League (now in its final season as teams integrate with USL PRO, either via affiliation or by fielding their own minor-league team).

This particular reserve game took place at 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena, kicking off one hour after the Red Bulls' regular game against Chivas USA. By the time it kicked off, in the rain, there were not a whole lot of people in the building, and I was working the game solo. So it presented some challenges.

But I had researched Dayton as thoroughly as possible, talking to a Columbus Crew coach who gave insight on the seven players his club had loaned to Dayton and to the head coaches of both Dayton and the Red Bulls Reserves before the game. So I knew the players and personnel and had a great time calling the game:

Looking back, I'm frustrated at myself for losing focus on the plays in the second half that led to New York's goals (particularly the set pieces) and will be alert to that moving forward. But it's always good to be in a play-by-play setting, and hopefully there is more to come!

Dayton Dutch Lions (0-1) vs. New York Red Bulls Reserves (1-1)
March 30, 2014 -- Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ
USL PRO / MLS Reserve League

Scoring Summary:
NY -- Michael Bustamante 1 (Connor Lade 1, Eric Stevenson 1) 51
NY -- Eric Stevenson 1 (Marius Obekop 2, Arun Basuljevic 1) 61
NY -- Matt Miazga 1 (Eric Stevenson 2) 66

Dayton Dutch Lions -- Matt Williams, Taylor Bowlin (Ross Friedman 70), Brock Granger, Kevan George, Shane Smith, Shintaro Harada, Sebastien Thurière (Fifi Baiden 64), Eddie Hertsenberg (Aaron Schoenfeld 53), Cameron Vickers (Joe Broekhuizen 70), Ryan Finley (Matt Walker 64), Eli Garner.
Substitutes Not Used: Brad Stuver, Eric Kissinger.

New York Red Bulls Reserves -- Ryan Meara, Chris Duvall, Matt Miazga, Kevin Politz (Brandon Tetro 76), Ambroise Oyongo, Connor Lade, Eric Stevenson, Michael Bustamante, Arun Basuljevic (Malcolm Dixon 86), Chris Lema, Marius Obekop.
Substitutes Not Used: Santiago Castaño.

Misconduct Summary:
DAY -- Shintaro Harada (caution) 47
DAY -- Fifi Baiden (caution) 74
DAY -- Aaron Schoenfeld (caution) 88

Referee: Robert Sibiga
Referee's Assistants: T.J. Zablocki; Zeno Cho
Fourth Official: Ashraf Kamel

Weather: Rain-and-46 degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial