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White lives up to billing
by Paul Kennedy, March 12th, 2012 1:15AM

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TAGS:  mls, television

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[TELEVISION WATCH] All the pre-game buildup was about Kyle Martino working "Between the Benches," but the star of the debut of MLS on NBC Sports Network was Englishman Arlo White, who was as good as his billing. For more on what we learned from the FC Dallas-New York opener. (Along with learning for the first time, from watching the lead-in, that there is a sport called Red Bull Crashed Ice.)

NBC clearly is committed to its first year of MLS coverage, and it had White and Martino prepared.

More so than other play-by-play men on MLS's national broadcasts, White, whom the Sounders had recruited from the BBC in 2010, largely stuck to play calling, identifying players as plays developed and interjecting tidbits based on the pace of transitions. It's the style that he used in Seattle, where he worked on his own -- and simulcast the Sounders' broadcasts on television and radio. (Tell me -- how many announcers could identity FC Dallas owner Clark Hunt, his head down in his smart phone, to the left of MLS Commissionser Don Garber and U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.)

That Martino was down on the field, not next to him up in the booth, actually helped as White maintained control of the broadcast, mostly calling on Martino during appropriate pauses in the action. Martino's location on the sidelines was supposed to add to the broadcast but most of what he added was based on the work he had done preparing for the game, not what he saw.

After Zach Loyd's opening goal, scored after the Red Bulls failed to clear a free kick into the penalty area, Martino noted that Red Bulls coach Hans Backe talked about the Red Bulls being the worst team in the league on set pieces but Martino added that they weren't working on them in practice the day before the game.

If Martino tried to demonstrate the benefit to being close to the action, it backfired in the middle of the first half when he said that viewers would be "surprised" what they'd see on replays of Jair Benitez's foul on Juan Agudelo and that the Colombian defender should have been red carded, not issued a yellow card, for "[getting] his elbow high and [getting] him in the face." Well, the replays showed the foul wasn't nearly as bad as Martino said it was.

Mostly, White kept the broadcast flowing, calling on Martino by name when he wanted his analysis. But White would jump right back into the action, keeping Martino from rambling. They almost got caught off guard on the second Dallas goal when Martino went on about Thierry Henry dropping back into middle as Roy Miller coughed up the ball that led to the Dallas breakaway. But White didn't miss a beat, calling Blas Perez's name as the player on the ball as the Panamanian led in Ricardo Villar.

NBC didn't use Martino's position on the field to do any in-game interviews, but it did allow him to chat with Backe before the start of the second half to get what New York hoped it would do after the break. It built up Martino as NBC's insider analyst, not simply a guy with a mike.

NBC produced both a pre-game and post-game show to go along with the halftime segment hosted by NBC SportsTalk host Russ Thaler and former Robbie Earle.

Before the game, Earle talked about how Daniel Hernandez had "one of hardest jobs in MLS" playing in front of the FC Dallas backline in its 4-1-4-1 formation and having to mark Henry. A minute later, he explained Dallas would stick to a "rigid 4-4-1-1" formation in contrast to New York's more flexible approach.

Earle also struggled at halftime when talking about what FC Dallas needed to do in the second half. Getting Brek Shea wide made sense, but getting more out of Fabian Castillo on the ball wasn't going to happen. After a promising 25 minutes, the young Colombian had limped off with a knee injury in the first half. Earle appeared nervous, repeatedly looking down at his notes as he rattled off names of players on the contenders in the two MLS conferences.

Thaler and Earle brought on Shea for its postgame segment, but Thaler struggled with the name of 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira, who is injured and whose place Villar took in the lineup. "Daniel ... Ferreira," Thaler said, as he set up Shea to describe Villar's sweet goal.

But most fans will forgive NBC for these minor flaws if they get the kind of work out of White each week that they did in Week 1.

P.S. Henry remains an enigma. He is one of the best quotes in MLS -- when he is in the mood to talk with the press. He was very much in a better mood before the game than he was afterward.

He gave great responses to Martino's pre-game questions. What can he carry over from his successful loan spell at Arsenal? "Well, nothing ..." What was the importance of the opening game to the Red Bulls? Henry noted how he watched Real Salt Lake -- whom the Red Bulls will play on the road next week -- on Saturday night at Los Angeles. "They looked pretty good so we have to find something pretty good today." And the Red Bulls' expectations going into 2012? "Every wants to win it, but LA, Salt Lake and other teams are ahead of us."

But he wasn't as expansive afterward in the locker room. How do the Red Bulls bounce back? “Win games,” Henry said. “And score more goals than the opponent.”



9 comments
  1. bgix
    commented on: March 12, 2012 at 7:47 a.m.
    I have some Portland friends who loved to talk last year about how much of a "Homer" Arlo White was, and how Professional their team of Strong and Earle was. Well, I'll give them Strong. But Arlo was and is first class all of the way, and Robbie Earle? He would be out of his league calling a U-7 game.

  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: March 12, 2012 at 8:55 a.m.
    One commentator helps the game breathe; two commentators suffocate the game...i.e., Max Bretos used to do the Argentina game solo and he was great, when he was paired in other games, it was down hill. An anamoly would be Brian Dunseth whose commentary rivals that of an auctioneer, never stops talking and when he does, it's back to the game.

  1. Tom Symonds
    commented on: March 12, 2012 at 9:41 a.m.
    Five Stars for Arlo...outstanding, as usual. Martino's role is obviously a work in progress, but as long as Arlo keeps control on the telecasts Kyle may well turn out okay. Robbie Earle was definitely uncomfortable...perhaps he and Kyle can work together pre/post game. Pull the plug on Russ Thaler's mic....horrible ESPN-like loud mouth with nothing useful to say.

  1. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis
    commented on: March 12, 2012 at 10:08 a.m.
    I didn't see the game, but I sure hope y'all aren't kidding about it having good commentating. But then, almost anything! would be! better!! than the breathy! stilted!! and stultifying!!! style! of most US soccer! commentators!! You know who they are. Give me Ian Darke any day. (I used to think ALL the British commentators were better than any American ones, until recent seasons. It turns out that they, sadly, have just as many yammering chatterers as we do, and just as many irksome speaking styles.)

  1. Carl Walther
    commented on: March 12, 2012 at 10:21 a.m.
    Does White have the ability to ever shut up?

  1. Doug Broadie
    commented on: March 12, 2012 at 11:55 a.m.
    White is top drawer! But as a Sounder fan, I knew that already. As for Arlo shutting up, when he gets to mid season form, there should be periods of time where the game is quiet, you'll find Arlo will be quiet. Much the same way Toby Charles used to do. As far as American broadcasters go, give me Phil Shane anytime.

  1. Ray Shines
    commented on: March 12, 2012 at 12:07 p.m.
    Hespokeforfortyfiveminutesstraightplusstoppageanddroppedinthingswedidn'tneedtoknowaboutliketheEstonianNationalTeamandTHISistheguywhoisthebestinthecountry? Seriously? White seemed utterly out to impress us with how much he had prepared. Well, the key to having all that information is not hitting us over the head with it. He didn't let the game breathe at all. Basically he was Rob Stone with an accent.

  1. Robert Taylor
    commented on: March 12, 2012 at 12:35 p.m.
    Arlo was OK. But, he talked way too much! Eliminate about 25% of the chatter, and he'll be good. It's only the first game. Let's give him some time. Kyle, OK at best. Again, cut down on the talking. They are both much better than the American announcers on Fox Soccer. I still think the gold standard is the British anouncers on EPL games and UEFA Chanpion League games. Tay.

  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: March 13, 2012 at 4:51 p.m.
    A lot of Arlo's yada-yada is scripted for the game and 95% of the script is total nonsense.


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