[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.”