Roundtable: Surprises, The West, And NBC Sports

toronto fc, coaching staff, mls

US Soccer Player MLS writers Justin Shaffer, Dario Camacho, and Tony Edwards debate the first month of the season, NBC Sports Channel's coverage of the League, and the situation in Southern California.

What has surprised you the most so far this season?

Dario Camacho: Toronto. Say what you will about their current problems, but by year's end last year it looked like they had turned the corner. Having Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans seemed like hope for a better 2012.

Five straight losses and they look even worse than in 2011. Losing Frings so early in the season and bowing out of the CCL has placed a heavy burden on Aron Winter. If May doesn't improve anything from the fiasco that was March and April, Winter might be looking for work elsewhere by June.

Justin Shaffer: San Jose sitting in second place in the West and third in the combined table. But a deeper look shows that’s a little misleading. Their early schedule has been relatively weak and, aside from a fluke win against an injury-depleted Seattle, they really haven’t beaten a good team yet. They’ll get a real test against Real Salt Lake at home this weekend, but then get Philadelphia, DC United, Vancouver, Chivas USA, and Columbus. These are five winnable games and the Earthquakes will need all the points they can get. Starting May 23rd, they’ll face LA, Sporting KC, Colorado, Real Salt Lake, and LA again. Anything more than three points from those five matches will be a success and seven points might be a best-case scenario.

Tony Edwards: I thought Portland was going to be better. I'm surprised that Chivas is where they are, but then it's not a stretch to say Robin Fraser was well-thought of when he took the Chivas opportunity. I think Philadelphia and the rest of the East deserves their own Discussion Topic, there's so much wrong there.

What's going on in Southern California? Does Robin Fraser have Chivas on the right track? Is the Galaxy back to being the class of the West?

Camacho: Chivas USA is always an anomaly. What are you going to get each week is a surprise to everyone. Yet, with three road wins you wonder if they play better as true underdogs rather than playing in front of fans (the ones that show up at least). If there was ever a team that deserves better it's Chivas USA. They always get my sentimental vote of approval.

Edwards: Fraser is taking the classic, build-from-the-back, make-them-tough-to-play-against approach. It might work, given time, but it's not going to sell a lot of tickets this year. It is only fair to acknowledge that if any team needed a 'culture change.' it's the team that wears Guadalajara's crest on its shirt.

Camacho: Frasier needs consistent performances from his players, yet it's always a mixed bag. They did beat RSL and they did win at Portland in that tough environment so there is something there. Bringing in Ryan Smith to open up the left was a great pick up. They just need a strong central forward to actually take advantage of Smith's crosses.

Shaffer: Chivas hasn’t really looked much better than last year. They’re looking like they’ll again sit at the bottom of the middle tier in the West, just above the truly bad teams.

Edwards: What about the Galaxy?

Camacho: They probably need a switch in tactics. No Omar Gonzalez means you can't rely on your defense. They should be a power offense with Donovan, Buddle, and Keane.

Justin: LA next four games should give us a clearer indication of how they match-up against the better teams in the league, with home games against New York and FC Dallas and road games at Seattle and Colorado. LA’s early schedule is loaded with difficult match-ups, but they’ll get opportunities to pad their record against the lesser competition in the league as the season wears on.  Dropping points at home to teams like New England isn’t going to get them where they need to be though.

Edwards: As Justin alludes, the League's schedule is long and forgiving for good teams. Give Arena a few more weeks to work out the backline and the Galaxy will still end up first in the West when the regular season is over.

After adding Montreal, the biggest change of the offseason was MLS' contract with the NBC Sports Channel. How have these early broadcasts been received?

Camacho: NBC Sports Channel's coverage has been great. That energy and production value has carried over from the first game they broadcast. Yet, MLS has to figure out a flexible TV schedule with NBC. The most hyped game to date this year wasn't even available for all to see (RSL vs SKC). It's a shame. MLS has to have better flexibility in order to put its best foot forward week in and week out.

Shaffer: Yet what NBC has created as far as its production values has been impressive and consistent.

I truly enjoy listening to Arlo White and Kyle Martino call games together. White’s focus and quality on the play by play is an all too rare treat in what must surely be the worst era in sports broadcasting. As the televisions and broadcast qualities have improved over the past few decades, the on-air personalities have surely regressed. Martino is the rare color commentator who doesn’t have to hear himself speak at every opportunity. His unique perch on the sidelines has offered an interesting and helpful perspective on the game and has been so well integrated into the broadcast that the viewer wouldn’t have any idea he wasn’t in the booth if it wasn’t mentioned periodically by White. NBC Sports probably mikes the supporters groups more than any other soccer broadcast I’ve watched.

Edwards: I'm not as sold on Arlo White as you, and some friends whose opinions I rate highly, are, but I will agree on the production values and mic-ing of the supporters groups. Watching a game from Kansas City is a great experience, and who of us thought we'd ever say that.

5 Responses to Roundtable: Surprises, The West, And NBC Sports

  1. Steve says:

    Justin Shaffer What’s with the unbalanced analysis? You declare LA’s quality will be tested by NYRB at home and Seattle on the road, but discount San Jose’s road win at Seattle, and the road tie at NYRB with an SJ lineup depleted coming in and hit hard during the NYRB game. Against their common (and weak) opponents, Toronto and New England, LA was 0-2-1 and San Jose was 2-0. Good teams do beat the teams that should be beaten. We’ll certainly have more of a basis for comparison after the weekend unless you then don’t count LA’s 3-1 loss to Real. San Jose’s lineup has enough injuries, and with Chavez serving his Disciplinary Committee imposed suspension, a win in any form will not be a fluke.

  2. 1st kyle says:

    After adding Montreal, the biggest change of the offseason was MLS’ contract with the NBC Sports Channel. How have these early broadcasts been received?
    Edwards: I’m not as sold on Arlo White

    Neither am I. To be honest, I cant stand hearing an English accent call an MLS or US National games. To me its a slap in the face of the American/Canadian viewer. It’s saying to us “With my English accent I carry “Legitimacy” something your american announcers lack .”
    It’s as bad as when they had the professional sports announcer (I cant remember his name) who called MLB games calling US National and MLS games. He had that “Announcers” voice, but it was so plainly obvious he had no real passion/knowledge for the game. White has plenty of passion, but it’s an Amer/Cana league, with Amer/Cana viewers. Are we to believe that there are legions of English followers of the MLS and this is why White is calling games? Truth be told, despite the PR machine that tries to convince our public that the league is gaining legitimacy in Europe, we arent. We are seen as a retirement and or farm style league. I would be surprised anyone overseas could name more than 2 MLS teams. Congrats to the Galaxy for being one of the two.
    Can we get someone to partner with Martino who has a true identity and passion for the league that the American/Canadian viewers can relate to? I enjoy Martino. Wanalda wasnt too bad except his arrogance shined through a bit too much. Though, I do enjoy listening to his analysis of players and games in the pre/post game shows.
    We see this so often in American television. The formula is “Get a person with an English accent to be the judge/announcer because they sound sophisticated and knowledgeable. They will be the expert.”
    What? An American or Canadian cant fill that position? The Network has to say to us “You are too stupid to know the game. We have to go get someone from overseas who can tell you about it”…tell you what, lets take a guy with a heavy southern accent and have him call EPL games in England and see how well he is received.

  3. Steve,
    Sorry for the slow reply, just saw your comment now (three days later).

    You make a good point on the common opponents for LA and San Jose, but it’s also a very small sample set. It’s easy to say that the good teams win games against beatable opponents, but in pretty much any sport the better team can be beaten (or tied) on any given day. See Barca’s loss to Chelsea last week if you want an example.

    My point is simply that I’m not buying San Jose as a playoff team…not yet anyway. They’ve had some lucky, game-changing (and poor) calls go their way and that will balance out at some point.

    The loss of Shea Salinas is going to make it hard to keep winning as well.

    I don’t think RSL’s loss to San Jose this weekend was at all indicative of San Jose’s quality given that they were playing against a 9 or 10 men RSL team for at least 2/3rds of the game. We’ll just have to see how the rest of the season plays out to see if San Jose’s for real. At this stage, I’m saying their record is more a result of luck than quality.

  4. Kyle,
    The accent doesn’t bother me at all and what I love about White is that he does focus on the play by play rather than him and Martino spending half the game talking about events happening off the field or to the sport in general. That’s a rarity in these days of sports broadcasts. Far too many announcers can’t focus on a game or are tasked with promoting the network and league’s other interests.

    Seems to me you have no real issue with White’s ability as an announcer, only that he has a British accent. You say yourself that he has the passion, and he certainly has the knowledge of the game. Unlike some British broadcasters (that I won’t mention by name), he’s also shown a healthy respect for both the league and his audience by knowing as much as any broadcaster about the teams, the players, the league’s unique rules, and the language itself. White’s previously mentioned in interviews that he consciously makes an effort to “Americanize” his language in a sign of respect to the audience (i.e. using “soccer” not “football” and other such differences).

    I’m sure you’re not the only one with that particular point of view, but I couldn’t disagree with it more. Are you suggesting we also switch to only using American and Canadian players, being that it’s an American/Canadian league?

  5. Steve says:

    Thanks for responding Justin.  You obviously won’t overcome your doubting Thomas position on San Jose, but it won’t keep me from commenting further on your view of San Jose just being lucky.  7 games played pretty evenly split between home and away (AT&T definitely falls someplace in between) and with wins over the #2, #3 and #4 teams in the West is a valid sample. Of course, it’s too early to predict the order of finish at the end of the season, but to doubt that San Jose has demonstrated their ability to be one of the top 5 in the West is giving much more credit to the rest of the West than they deserve — as if they’ve all  just been unlucky to this point.  

    In a  close game in Seattle game it was pretty obvious that Burch had Lenhart on his mind when he planted his leg across Lenhart’s path to impede him — away from the ball.  No doubt we don’t see this call often, but that’s because we don’t often see defenders making such a dumb move at this level of the game.  I don’t think that it was luck that Lenhart’s presence — even away from the ball — was enough to influence Burch’s decision making leading to such an obvious foul.  The call for the ref was almost painfully easy. 

    I’d agree that it was disappointing that RSL played their way down to 10 and then 9 men as that fact alone gives some people a superficial excuse for RSL’s loss.  But the signs that RSL wasn’t all there to start (including the coach, Kreis) were apparent in the first 29 minutes given their flat performance including Kreis’ reaction to the obvious red card foul by Espindola.  When a team’s not altogether mentally, it will show up in odd moments.  I think this was one of those moments.  Or if we interpret results in terms of luck, San Jose must have been unlucky when Khari’s 22nd minute shot went off the post and the shot off the rebound was not well taken.  And so Khari was just lucky to beat Rimando with a header off Beitashour’s well placed cross in stoppage time near the end of the 1st half.  Well stoppage time is part of the rules of the game and goals scored inside this time period count and have the same relative probability of occurring as those scored prior to 45 minutes passing on the clock.  

    Credit RSL for coming out to start the second half much better than the 1st half.  Their efforts resulted in a well executed sequence of passing, and Beckerman,s dribble and shot for a goal.  But following this point, it appeared RSL was going to be happy to play more conservatively to take home a point and San Jose didn’t break the more packed defense presented by RSL.  So then it comes down to what I believe may be bothering you most… the Lenhart factor.  Lenhart is a skilled player and does play with an attitude that would be seen as, at the least, annoying coming from any opponent.  Do note that he receives as much grief and pain as he delivers (hmm… a chicken or the egg question?).  And besides being inside the defenders heads, he clearly has the ref’s attention.  Just prior to the much debated Olave red card, it was Lenhart who was mugged by Borcher, but came away with a yellow card from the ref’s perspective.  It’s interesting that you cast these situations as lucky or unlucky.  I give a lot of credit to RSL (Rimando, in particular) for bunkering down and playing the game on only one half of the field with 9 men.  This stifled much of the play for both teams.  The end for RSL really came with the announcement of 6 minutes of stoppage time (could have been much longer as Olave may have set a record for the time it takes to walk off the field). The goals were scored within 3 minutes of stoppage time, but RSL obviously deflated at the moment the stoppage time was announced and San Jose quickly exploited the bit of extra time or space provided by that letdown for 2 goals.  Kreis can blame it all on the ref, Lenhart, or lack of respect for his crusade for the beautiful game, but just luck — I don’t think so.  The next game at RSL should be very interesting.  And if RSL is concerned about Lenhart, all the better for San Jose.