The mind of Christopher Sullivan works in myriad ways, and dozens of times a year, during telecasts of MLS matches or international games, viewers of Fox Soccer Channel hear the views and ideas of a former U.S. international steeped in many facets of the game.
He played collegiately at the University of Tampa and professionally in Germany, Hungary, Sweden, Mexico and the United States while earning 19 caps (1987-92). Usually paired with play-by-play announcer Max Bretos on FSC telecasts, Sullivan, 43, has his fans and his critics, as do all commentators, but unquestionable is his unique persona on the air.
"One of Christopher's many attributes is that he has played in a variety of countries," says FSC senior vice-president of production and programming and assistant GM Dermot McQuarrie. "He has therefore seen a different style of play. Added to that is his involvement in training and rehab and fitness for top Italian soccer stars. He sees the game from a different perspective."
Among the soccer stars Sullivan knows well are former Italian international Roberto Baggio and the Crew's Argentine playmaker, Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Baggio's personal trainer is a friend of Sullivan's, as his one of Schelotto's confidants, ex-Crew forward Marcelo Carrera. Sullivan once bumped into Schelotto at a Macy's in Dallas and off they went.
"Some players can transmit a good intelligence to the game," says Sullivan. "Guillermo is one of those guys. If you ask him about a game, or an action, or a movement, his articulation is amazing. He understands the game at a high level, at a quality level. We talked for at least 30 minutes and Max said we would have gone on for three hours if he and I didn't have to leave. He's probably right."
Sullivan speaks Hungarian, French, Italian and Spanish, which enables him to speak in the same language and spirit as those with which he converses to do his job. There's always energy and enthusiasm even if not much that's occurring on the field merits such attention. Good play and great goals are celebrated in the booth only slightly less enthusiastically as they are on the field.
"He also has great passion," says McQuarrie. "Christopher's totally transparent. Whatever he says, he's not just making it up as he goes along. He's passionate about it, he does a tremendous amount of research before the game, and you can see that. He understands the game, all the coaches know him and the players know him and he knows them, and they talk to him during the week."
He can switch gears from MLS to international soccer. His take on Barcelona and coach Josep "Pep" Guardiola and the team's success: "He gets his players to play for the team, but also gives them the sugar of the game, so they're happy. That's coaching. You give them some sugar so they can express themselves."
He lists Schelotto, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Landon Donovan, Alecko Eskandarian, Arturo Alvarez, Stuart Holden and Sacha Kljestan among the MLS players he likes to watch.
"The most important players are the ones who lift the other players and make them better," he says. "It's that simple, like Magic Johnson did in basketball. That really encompasses everything that's great about the game."
Says McQaurrie, "The passion he has for it, what you see is what you get with Christopher. Some color commentators maybe don't go as deep into the game as he does, but he lives the game 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and he wants to tell people why things are being done. I really think he explains it very, very well."
(This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Soccer America magazine.)