30 August 2014

Circus catch highlights Duquesne effort in 38-28 loss to Buffalo

My Saturday game, called on ESPN3 with Vonnie Holliday, was Duquesne's first game against an FBS team, and they sure put in a memorable performance. After trailing 21-0 late in the first half, the Dukes rallied to go up 28-24 early in the fourth quarter before eventually succumbing, 38-28.

I'll post some pictures from our day later, but first one of the coolest football plays I've had the privilege to call.

29 August 2014

My college football season kicks off with Buffalo vs. Duquesne Saturday on ESPN3

Most of you know me for calling soccer games or working in soccer, but this weekend I'll be stepping away to call college football for ESPN3. I am a big fan of several sports, and this is a chance to call one of them!

Sept. 1, 2012 - My CFB debut.
Football, Yardley-Style
Two years ago was my first experience calling college football (although I had called high school games in Texas, which occasionally has more fans than some college teams), and it was awesome. Over the course of the 2012 season, I called nine games, most with former Florida State offensive lineman Forrest Conoly, ranging from an opening-day game between two first-year FBS programs to the FCS quarterfinals featuring North Dakota State, then en route to the second of its three consecutive (and counting) national championships.

The rhythm of flying to a different college city each week, learning the teams and the context of their seasons, trying to take in some of the local culture, and then calling three-and-a-half hours of intensity, was exactly what I was looking for, and it made me want college football to be part of my portfolio going forward.

It didn't happen last year, in part because I missed the first three weeks of the season while traveling and moving to New York, and in part because there are fewer games covered by ESPN3 in reasonable travel distance of my new home.

Always nice to see your name listed near Brent Musberger's.
This year, however, I'm back on the schedule, at least for one week: I'll be calling Buffalo vs. Duquesne on Saturday at 3:30 pm ET on ESPN3! I've got a new partner for this one, 15-year NFL veteran Vonnie Holliday, and I can't wait to get started.

This Week's Game
As so many early-season games are, this one appears a bit of a mismatch. Buffalo went to a bowl game last year, while Duquesne is an FCS team offering only 35 scholarships. But Buffalo lost three of the best players in its history -- No. 5 NFL draft pick Khalil Mack, who's kind of impressive, tailback Branden Oliver and top receiving option Alex Neutz. In their last game against an FCS opponent in September 2013, the Bulls needed five (yes, that's right, five!) overtimes to beat Stony Brook.

Duquesne is coming off a season in which the Dukes were, in their minds, less than seven minutes away from winning the Northeast Conference outright and earning a bid to the FCS tournament. Having missed three field goals, they ultimately fell to Sacred Heart 10-0, so when the teams tied for the NEC title, Sacred Heart got the automatic bid. For the Dukes, this year is about winning that conference title outright and getting to the dance. Winning the opener may be highly unlikely, but they will not be short on motivation or effort, and I'm looking forward to seeing what both teams bring into their respective 2014 campaigns.

Both the Bulls and Dukes have hometown-hero quarterbacks, with Buffalo's Joe Licata (pronouncd li-COT-uh) the leader of an effort to build sustained success at Buffalo, historically not a great market for college football but one that led the MAC in attendance last year. Dillon Buechel has skills rarely seen by a program used to building on Steelers-style football: defense and the punishing rushers of western Pennsylvania. Buechel (pronounced BEE-kul) was one of the top 20 freshmen in the FCS last year.

Having watched video and studied flash cards all week, I'll be flying to Buffalo on Friday and checking out UB Stadium before calling Saturday's game. Give it a look if you've got some time -- Vonnie's 6-foot-5, so I'll be the short one this time!

27 August 2014

Sporting Park, four years later

After calling the Aug. 23 NWSL semifinal in Kansas City (more on that later) during the day, I got to take in an MLS game as a fan that night.

I'd been to the completed Sporting Park twice before, both when working for the Houston Dynamo, and both times the emotions of the game (a 3-0 Houston loss and a Houston win in the conference championship) overshadowed anything the stadium provided as far as takeaways.

So on this visit I spent the first half just watching the game from a press box-level seat, then spent the second half moving around to sit in several different seats (the south end zone, the top row of the 'G' in 'SPORTING' on the far sideline, and seats just behind the KC bench).

There's a lot to like about the stadium. The noise was great (at least until D.C. United took the game over with three goals in the first half), and I liked that the concourse is, at least for half the stadium, still in sight of the field. Very different from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston and Red Bull Arena in New Jersey (at RBA, they won't even let you stand at the top of a section). Both shades of blue were everywhere, the crowd consisted of a good mix of people,and the place had a great energy level.

More than anything else, it was cool to see the finished product. On a Dynamo road trip to Kansas City in September 2010, I got a tour of the in-progress stadium, and here's a look at how things looked then and now (and a comparison of how much better cell-phone cameras have gotten!)

Sept. 2010Aug. 2014

12 August 2014

All Chinese to me: Preparing for players whose names you can't read

I take the preparation and research for my broadcasts very seriously, and I got some special help this week.

This summer brought me a terrific opportunity, as I was asked to call games at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup for ESPN

That meant learning how to pronounce a ton of names, many of them in languages unfamiliar to me. We've already covered some of my French background with this #HumbleBrag post, but the Asian teams … that's another story. Is pronouncing the transliterated versions of Chinese and Korean phonetically really the best way? With the US drawn against China in the group stage, I had to find a solution.

Thankfully, my family came to the rescue again. My older brother happens to have married a Chinese-American woman and has learned plenty of Chinese himself. So I spent a good 30 minutes on Skype listening to him make sounds I never thought he could. (He actually looked online for a roster in Chinese characters to make sure he was giving me good advice, but he never could find one.)

After repeating his pronunciation of player after player, I then wrote them out phonetically for myself (Lyu Siqi became lyew suh-chee, for example) and began practicing. When watching China's first two games, I said the names out loud as players passed the ball around, constantly reminding myself to use only the family name (the first name listed) on second reference. So if I wanted to use what we think of as Lyu Siqi's "last" name, I would say, 'lyew.'

Between the first and second group games, I got my sister-in-law on the phone for a test run, and she only corrected one of my 22 pronunciations, so I felt ready to go for the US-China game on Tuesday.

When preparing my scoresheet, instead of writing out the players' names as listed by FIFA (LYU Siqi) or what appeared on their jerseys (LYU S Q), I went with a combination of accuracy and phonetics. Since I had most of the last names down and wanted those to be used more often, I wrote the last names in all caps in their proper spelling (LYU). Then I wrote a small-caps, phonetic version of their individual names (SUH CHEE). So if I had forgotten No. 5's name, I would look down and quickly get LYU; suh-chee might only be used if I had time to get into any of the (minimal) background information I had come up with.

I went over the names with my partner, former World Cup- and U-20 World Cup-winning coach Tony DiCicco, who has been great to work with for all the US games. Plenty familiar with Chinese national teams from facing them over the years, he also focused on getting the last names correct. Since there were only a few duplicates in the lineup, that mostly sufficed.

The broadcast went off without a hitch, at least from a Chinese names perspective, and the time we put into our preparation was well worth it. How else could we quickly be able to correctly identify and pronounce TAN and TANG, LYU and LIU, LI and LEI, ZHONG and ZHANG? For that I am very, very grateful to my brother and my sister-in-law.

Now for Saturday ... anybody know Korean?

03 August 2014

NPSL championship game archive

Here's the archived video from Saturday night's NPSL championship game between the New York Red Bulls U-23s and Chattanooga FC. Supporters from both teams laid down a great soundtrack, and I thoroughly enjoyed calling the game. Have a look: