24 June 2014

Calling Philadelphia Union vs. New York Cosmos Tuesday night

Tonight I'm working the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 game between the Philadelphia Union, from MLS, and the 21st-century edition of the New York Cosmos, from the second-tier North American Soccer League, a re-launch of the 1970s-era Cosmos. I'll have the call with Kristian Dyer, of BigAppleSoccer.com and Philadelphia Union pre-game and halftime show fame, at 7 p.m. ET on the Union's website.

Despite it being an MLS vs. NASL game, part of me considers the Cosmos favorites in this one. They're playing extremely well (19 goals for, 3 goals against in 11 games) this year, including a 3-0 demolition of the New York Red Bulls on June 14 that was more lopsided than even the score indicates. They have MLS-level talent at several positions and are really aggressive throughout the field. If they bring the same tenacity to Tuesday's game that they did against the Red Bulls, I like their chances.

That's because Philadelphia continues to struggle. Just 3-7-6 in league play, the Union needed a last-minute goal from Maurice Edu to force overtime against struggling third-tier team Harrisburg last week, and while they did rally to win, they have been anything but convincing. Their chances will significantly improve, in my view, if striker Conor Casey is healthy enough to play and if Frenchman Sebastien Le Toux gets the starting nod; he was at the heart of every significant Union chance against Harrisburg after coming off the bench.

I've really enjoyed meeting and hearing from both head coaches - New York-area soccer legend Giovanni Savarese, a former Venezuelan international for the Cosmos and Villanova grad and former MLS defender Jim Curtin for Philadelphia, where he is the interim manager. I've also got friendly faces on either side, having worked with Union midfielder Danny Cruz and Cosmos defender Hunter Freeman when I worked in Houston.

Whoever wins will host a quarterfinal on July 8, a game I plan to attend and hope to work no matter who hosts, and I'm excited to see this one tonight.

Philadelphia N.Y. Cosmos
Record 3-7-6 6-2-1
Place 8th/10 MLS East 2nd/NASL
Scoring 22-27 = -5
14-3 = +11
Leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux 4
Conor Casey 4
Mads Stokkelien 3 (+2)
Assist leader Cristian Maidana 6 Mads Stokkelien 3 (+1)
First season 2010 2013 fall
League Record 44-60-44 15-3-5
Open Cup history 5-2, 4-1 home 2-0, 0-0 away

21 June 2014

Compliments en français

This is not going to be the most humble post in blog history, so bear with me.

In preparing to call the US-France women's game on Thursday, I worked really hard to learn the correct pronunciations for the French players' names. I watched the women's French Cup final, I watched France's friendly against Brazil, and I watched one of their qualifying matches against Austria. I also watched their behind-the-scenes YouTube videos from the 2013 European Championship. I read a lot of French articles and tweets about the French women's team, known as Les Bleues (feminine version of Les Bleus, as the men's team is known). By far the most French studying I had done since my junior year of college.

20 June 2014

USA 2, France 2 - stream archive

I'm exhausted this morning after calling USA-France last night and getting home at about 1:30 a.m. last night, then rising early for working hours today.

But I'm happy. I had a blast calling the US game last night, and I'm very relieved that the United States' record home unbeaten streak survived my first game on the call, now extended to 84 games (73-0-11) after the 2-2 tie.

I got to call two excellent goals from cult hero Alex Morgan, her first goals for the US in more than a year (due in large part to injury), even if the enthusiastic screams obscured my voice at times.

More on the game later, including pictures and some reviews of my French accent, but here's the stream archive:

19 June 2014

USA vs. France tonight at 7:30 pm!

Rentschler Field
Tonight I get to call the US women's national team for the first time when they host France at 7:30 pm at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. The game can be seen at USSoccer.com.

I can admit I've got a few butterflies for this one. Calling the national team is always a big deal, and it's the first time I've called the women's national team, let alone in a game pitting teams ranked Nos. 1 and 4 in the world against each other.

But I'm far more excited than nervous and really looking forward to the game. I talked with new US head coach Jill Ellis by phone yesterday and have been watching tape on both the US and France for several weeks now.

The US is about one year away from the World Cup, and while they still have qualifying to go through in the fall, it's expected to be a formality. So this two-game series with France (the US won on Saturday in Tampa, 1-0, highlights) is about preparing the team's contributors to play high-level opposition and to give them time to adapt to a new style. From its typical starting lineup, the US is without goalkeeper Hope Solo (personal commitment), midfielder Megan Rapinoe (foot), midfielder Shannon Boxx (maternity). Forward Abby Wambach (LCL) did not train on Wednesday, while forward Alex Morgan has yet to start since returning from an ankle injury.

France is at the end of its season (the European season runs fall-to-spring), and this is the only summer in a four-year cycle without a major tournament (2011 Women's World Cup semifinals, 2012 Olympics semifinals, Euro 2013 quarterfinals). But as you can see from their results at major tournaments, France is an elite team trying to learn how to be champions, and playing the US is the best possible test.

For more on the game, here are a few preview articles I looked through this morning:
Hartford Courant with Alex Morgan on the men's World Cup
Soccerly.com on US objectives
Soccerly.com on what the game means to France
L'Equipe with French captain Wendie Renard, including this quote: "The team is at the end of the season, obviously, and there is fatigue, but for the group, it is good to compare yourself to the big nations. If one day you want to win a title, you have to go through them. The fans will be against us, and it will be interesting to see how people react mentally …"

17 June 2014

Watch Philadelphia-Harrisburg Open Cup match at 7 pm

Here's the live stream of tonight's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game between the Philadelphia Union and Harrisburg City Islanders:

It's no World Cup, but plenty of reasons to watch Philadelphia Union vs. Harrisburg City Islanders tonight

Philadelphia reached the Open Cup semifinals at PPL Park
back in 2012, beating Harrisburg 5-2 along the way.
Calling an American soccer game the day after the US national team’s dramatic 2-1 win over Ghana is intimidating. It’s not like any mid-season club game can top that type of drama, emotion, or significance.

Nevertheless, I’m really looking forward to calling the Philadelphia Union game against the Harrisburg City Islanders tonight in U.S. Open Cup play (7:00 pm ET, Philadelphia Union YouTube channel). Here are a few of the storylines that make this one worth watching:
  1. Motivation: The Open Cup often pits amped-up lower-division teams whose players have a point to prove against MLS teams for whom the game is more of a scheduling nuisance than a date to be circled. (Case in point: the New York Cosmos crushing the New York Red Bulls 3-0 on Saturday). But in this case, both teams will be highly motivated. It will be the first game for Philadelphia under interim manager Jim Curtin, which means players will be trying to prove that they deserve to either stay in the lineup or get a chance to break into it. Curtin has also stated that the Union will prioritize the Open Cup more than some other MLS teams. On the Harrisburg side, this is the biggest game on the schedule so far, and their players will bring maximum effort from the opening whistle. 
  2. Connections: With an affiliation agreement in place, these teams work together 364 days per year, but on Tuesday, they will be looking for any advantage they can get. Philadelphia will not allow four players currently on loan to Harrisburg to play against the Union, depriving Harrisburg of three starters (target forward Pedro Ribeiro, wing Jimmy McLaughlin, and center back Richie Marquez). Harrisburg will rely on its knowledge of the Union, thanks in part to wing Morgan Langley and center midfielder Yann Ekra, who have both had brief stints with Philadelphia. Union defender Sheanon Williams began his pro career with Harrisburg in 2010 
  3. Up against it: Harrisburg is seriously depleted. This is the City Islanders’ sixth of seven games in 21 days from May 31-June 20, and after seeing both Neil Shaffer and Clesio Bauque subbed out due to injury on Saturday against Pittsburgh, they have only 13 field players available for the 10 starting spots. Nevertheless, Harrisburg is 5-4 all-time in Open Cup games against MLS teams, so head coach Bill Becher and captain Jason Pelletier will be able to instill some belief in the players who are available. 
  4. A new era: Curtin is a 34-year-old Villanova alumnus who highlighted his local roots when he was introduced as Philadelphia's interim manager last week. The passionate Union fans want to see a team that reflects their own intensity, and I have a feeling Curtin will be a good motivator. That still leaves questions such as, what formation will Curtin choose, which young players will get looks, and where will some of the more established players line up? The Jim Curtin Era begins tonight, and I’ll be there to get a first glimpse.
Philadelphia Harrisburg
Record 3-7-6 3-6-3
Place 8th/10 MLS East 11th/14 USL PRO
Scoring 22-27 = -5
14-20 = -6
Leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux 4
Conor Casey 4
Morgan Langley 4
Clesio Bauque 3
Open Cup history 4-2, 3-1 home 14-7, 5-4 vs. MLS
Head-to-head Open Cup: PHI leads 1-0 (2012)
Friendly: PHI leads 2-1 (2011, 12, 13)

13 June 2014

Two soccer broadcasts coming up next week

Storm brewing during Open Cup game between
Philadelphia and Rochester in 2012.
The eyes of the soccer world are on the World Cup in Brazil, and mine are as well. But soccer continues elsewhere, particularly in the United States, where the US Open Cup, USL PRO, and NWSL all continue playing. I’ve been fortunate enough to schedule two broadcasts so far during the World Cup, both coming next week.

First up, on Tuesday, I’ll be calling the online stream of the US Open Cup game between the Philadelphia Union and Harrisburg City Islanders. I love the Open Cup. I love the pressure the single-elimination Open Cup creates in each game, its potential for upsets, and (if I’m honest) its role as a niche competition overlooked by many. I lived in Philadelphia for almost a year in 2011-12 as my better half finished her studies, so I saw two games during the Union’s run to the Open Cup semifinals in 2012 (including their win over Rochester, pictured above), and I’m excited to be calling their home games in the tournament this year.

Tuesday's game will mean a little something extra to Philadelphia players because it will be the first game for interim manager Jim Curtin, and thus the first chance for players to prove they deserve playing time in the future. Harrisburg is off to a slow start and relies on four on-loan Union players during league play. That quartet will not be allowed to play on Tuesday, one reason Harrisburg is a decided underdog. Don’t write them off, though; the City Islanders have advanced in five of their nine all-time meetings against MLS clubs in the Open Cup.

My second broadcast next week, on Thursday, is exciting in a very different way. It will be my first chance to call a game for the women’s national team, the top-ranked team in the world, as they take on No. 4 France in the second of back-to-back friendly games. These teams’ recent competitive meetings (2011 Women’s World Cup semifinals, 2012 Olympics) were both highly entertaining (3-1 and 4-2 US wins), and France is one of the few teams that can hope to match the US in terms of skill, so this is as big a friendly as you could hope to call, and it will be streamed on USsoccer.com.

Watching tape (and by tape, I generally mean YouTube, although sketchy streams from France have also been used) on both France and the US has been a lot of fun. Both teams will bring some of the best players in the world, particularly on the attacking side of the ball, but we'll also get to see some newer faces at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., all hoping to make the squads for next year's Women's World Cup in Canada.

I took French in both high school and college and loved trying to read the daily sports newspaper L’Equipe when I have traveled in France, so determining the correct pronunciations for French players’ names has been a blast. It’s made for a busy few weeks of preparation, and it should pay off when I call both games next week!