Brian Dunseth, in 1997 among the first generation of Americans to leave college early to go pro in MLS via Project-40, played in the league for nearly a decade. After two seasons at Cal State Fullerton, he spent five seasons the New England Revolution and played for the USA at the 2000 Olympics, where it finished fourth in men's soccer.
He also played for the Miami Fusion, Columbus Crew, Dallas Burn and Real Salt Lake, where upon retiring he started his broadcasting career. Dunseth has served as color commentator on Real Salt Lake TV broadcasts since 2007 and has hosted various soccer shows, including his current co-hosting of SiriusXM's podcast "Week In The Tackle" with Tom Rennie.Dunseth works alongside play-by-play man David James on Real Salt Lake's broadcasts in the Utah market on KMYU, but they will end after the 2022 season. In 2023, MLS will use national broadcasters for the call of all games on Apple's new MLS streaming service. A "Keep Dunny as RSL broadcaster" petition was started on change.org.
BRIAN DUNSETH: It was Upland AYSO — a team called the Lightning Bolts. My stepdad had signed me up. I was 6 or 7 years old. He said to me one day, 'You have good foot-eye coordination. I'm going to sign you up.' And I said, 'cool!'
My introduction to the game was with fields where half of it was dirt and we wore $13 white Lotto shirts right off the rack.
SA: Describe the soccer culture you grew up in?
BRIAN DUNSETH: I wasn't a video game kid. I hated sitting at home. So my parents put me in every sport to try and keep me busy and out of trouble.
When you get to club soccer in Southern California, one of the things I loved about it was that it was a huge mix of personalities and cultures. We had Hispanic, African-American, Asian — we had a pretty good mix of kids. Understanding backgrounds and cultures, food and religion, politics — it was a really dynamic group to be a part of.
It truly was a melting pot and we came up against so many different styles of teams. It was a time where, quite frankly, there were many coaching styles: Brazilian, Argentine, Dutch, Italian, English ... every coach would say, 'Oh, this is how we grew up and this is how we play and this is our system and this is what we believe in.'
SA: How did that help you perform later on in your career?
BRIAN DUNSETH: Switching teams and having different coaches was one of the most beneficial things for my career because I understood how quickly you need to adapt to a coach's desires and how he wants to play the game.
Southern California was wild — it was a time when fields were available all the time. We were outside year-round, which was definitely a big advantage every time we played teams from out of state.
SA: When did you start seriously thinking about being a pro soccer player?
BRIAN DUNSETH: I was 12 years old playing for Upland Celtic and we ended up going to England, Holland and Denmark — that was my first real introduction to what professional soccer looked like. I remember coming home and telling my parents that I was going to be a professional soccer player. And I got the pat on the head, the 'Oh, that's nice, honey!' And I was like, 'No, I'm going to make it.'
We won the state cup that year 6-0 or something like that. Our team was extraordinary. Subsequently, I got cut from that team. And I was the only one who got cut.
Everyone's got the Michael Jordan moment where some type of adversity comes. That was kind of mine.
The inaugural Project-40 team of 1997: Standing (L-R): Brian Dunseth, Ubusuku Abukusumo, Juan Sastoque, Carlos Parra; Front row: Eric Quill, Jose Botello, Barry Swift, Joe DiGiamarino. In 2006, Project-40 transitioned into Generation Adidas.
SA: Talk about your involvement in Project-40. When did you first hear about it and what was it like being one of its first signings?
BRIAN DUNSETH: I arrived at Cal State Fullerton without a scholarship — they paid for my books and one meal a day. I ended up paying for the rest. The reason I tell you that is because by the time I got invited into the U.S. U-20 national team, I had a short trial and Jay Hoffman, my coach at the time, said, 'Well, we think you've got something but we're not sure what you have. I'll give you a week.'
Basically, you had to sign a waiver to allow you to miss the spring season and stay eligible for the fall. After three days, he called me in — I thought he was going to release me — but he said, "Here's the waiver, sign it and fax it to your coach."
I made the U-20s and we traveled to Korea, Portugal, England. We had the U-20 World Cup coming up and that's when Sunil Gulati walks in and tells us that Nike, U.S. Soccer and MLS is putting this thing together — he's like, 'Who's interested?'
And I raised my hand. We were sitting in this board room at the Olympic training center at Chula Vista and I was the first guy to raise my hand and everyone looked at me like, 'What are you doing, bro? You don't know anything about this!'
And I'm like, 'Hey man, if I can get paid and I don't have to pay for school, you bet your ass I'm going to take this deal.'
So that was the genesis of me being the second Project-40 player to sign for Major League Soccer. It was kind of a who's who that came into my parents' house. Tim Hankinson [Project-40’s first head coach] was there, Sunil, Ivan Gazidis [the 14-year MLS executive, current CEO of AC Milan,].
They told me they'd pay me $27,000 a year — but I was going to be playing pro soccer. I told my parents, 'You're not saying no. This is my life and I'm making this decision. If I fail, I can come back to Fullerton and it's $1,000 a semester — it'll be OK.' So my parents were like, 'OK, cool, as long as you promise to go to school.' Which never happened — I never took a day of college courses.
SA: How much of an unknown was this 20-year-old you stepping into?
BRIAN DUNSETH: There was no promise of where I was going — I just signed with the league. The checks started rolling in, I got a sponsorship deal with Nike ... about two weeks later, I got a call from Thomas Rongen at the New England Revolution. He was like, 'Is this Brian?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, what's up?' He's like, 'this is Thomas Rongen. I want you. You're coming. But I know you won't be here until after the U-20 World Cup.'
So on July 3, after the U-20 World Cup, the Revs were playing at the Galaxy, and they had a hotel room ready for me. Sure enough, I got back, was at home for two days and then rolled into Pasadena. That's when I met up with Alexi [Lalas], Mike Burns, Joe Max-Moore, Ted Chronopoulos and all of those guys.
SA: How was adjusting to life with those stars who you had known about but never met?
BRIAN DUNSETH: It was crazy. These were iconic faces to me, from 1990 and 1994. And I was lucky, because I had kind of been earmarked by Clive Charles to be the captain for the U-23s before he had called the first camp in.
I already kind of knew the national team guys because of Clive. I had an in — Clive called them and was like, 'Take care of this guy. Beat him up and treat him like your little brother — but I need your help to look after him.'
By then I had gotten an agent, Richard Motzkin. I think I was his youngest player. [Motzkin is the currently executive vice president of Wasserman.] He also had Lalas, Burns, Chronopoulos. So I was getting looked after in two ways.
SA: Your first meeting with the team?
BRIAN DUNSETH: Mike Burns was my roommate. The captain of the team has this 20-year-old nugget who he's gotta look after.
The first thing he does is looks at me and says, 'Let's go.' General Manager Mike Burns is completely different from player Mike Burns. Player Mike Burns was always messing with people and doing stuff. We had this guy named Ara who was our trainer — small guy with a big, gregarious personality. He's always going, 'bratha!' — real Massachusetts accent.
So Burnsy shows me a hotel key card and he tells me we're going to go mess with Ara. I'm like, 'OK.' Next thing I know we're in the training room and he asks me for the scissors. He's pulling out all of Ara's shirts — even the collared ones — and cutting the sleeves off of every one of his shirts. We were on a 10-day trip. I used to mess around with stuff like that but never at a professional level.
We head back down to lunch and I'm not saying anything. Ara runs down and yells, 'Where is that mother******?!' and Burnsy starts doing this slurping giggle and everyone else is howling in laughter.
That was my introduction to the team.
SA: What happened next?
BRIAN DUNSETH: We go down to a video meeting and I'm sitting between Alexi and Burnsy. Thomas is doing the video from a week before.
He'd have bullet points with time stamps to make sure he got through everything in the game. At 56:38 all there is on the bullet is 'Fucking Pussies!' I look at Burnsy and go, 'What is that?' He's all, 'I don't fuckin' know!'
So we're sitting there and it's getting closer and closer. Alexi elbows me and starts to laugh. Everyone's giggling.
Thomas is up there smoking an unfiltered Marlboro red. He gets to the time stamp and stops it exactly at 56:38. It's a free kick for the other team and Thomas stops it right when the kick is taken. The two guys on the wall — Ted Chronopoulos and Billy Harte — turn and shield their faces from the ball.
Thomas goes, 'Teddy, you're a good looking fucker. You're an average soccer player, so I get it. Maybe you'll be a model when it's all said and done. But Billy: You are an ugly bastard. You should let that ball hit you in the face because if you do, maybe you'll get a sympathy girlfriend out of it.'
Burnsy is falling out of his chair. Alexi is laughing. I'm thinking to myself, 'What have I done? This is pro soccer?' It was my first three hours of my professional soccer career. It was wild.
SA: Your time captaining the 2000 U.S. Olympic team?
BRIAN DUNSETH: It was incredible. One of the proudest moments of your life. When you read the names on that roster, it was a really important group that built into the full team in 2002 and 2006 [including Landon Donovan, John O'Brien, Josh Wolff].
Personally, I got hurt before the tournament. Clive Charles still took me. Right before we played Cameroon — Samuel Eto'o was on that team — he had me slated to start but I wasn't ready.
We decided to wait for game three and by that time the team was playing so well it was understandable that Clive didn't want to switch it. You never really change center backs so it wasn't until the semifinal against Spain where I got to play.
In the third-place match, I played against Ivan Zamarano [one of Chile's most legendary players who was playing for Inter Milan]. Walking out in Sydney and seeing him — one of the most iconic strikers at the time — afterwards we traded jerseys. I've got that hanging up behind me when I do video stuff.
It was a moment in time that I look back on and appreciate how fortunate and lucky I was. And ultimately, how close we were to coming home with a medal.
SA: Your adventure to Sweden and Bodens BK? What was that like? How did soccer compare over there?
BRIAN DUNSETH: What happened is that I got transferred to Dallas on trade deadline day from Columbus. Once I got there, the general manager quit and the head coach got fired. A new guy comes in, my contract is in an option year. Not only did they not pick up my option, but they didn't offer me a contract either. Back then, you're not a free agent. I was trying to go to LA to try and play for Sigi Schmid, but they ended up saying they wanted a first-round draft pick. Sigi told me that he couldn't waste a first-round draft pick on me, and I understood that.
So I left for Sweden. At the time, it was a second division team with hopes of promotion. They had Luchi Gonzalez there, Leighton O'Brien, Steve Shak — we had a nice little American contingent there. I had three offers from big clubs over there and was named player of the year and captain when they had never named an foreign captain before.
Ultimately, John Ellinger, who was an assistant when I was in New England, got the Salt Lake job. He had always said that if he got a job, he'd want me. So they got my rights from Dallas and I was able to make the move.
SA: Did you want to stay in Europe and pursue a career there at all?
BRIAN DUNSETH: I would've stayed if I could have. I love change, I love Europe, exploration, language, cultures — I loved Sweden. My grandparents were convert Mormon and they always talked about Salt Lake City. When it happened, it felt right. Like I was supposed to come. Within two days of being here I called my mom and told her, 'I'm going to marry a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Salt Lake girl. I met my wife at the end of the year and here we are 17 years and three kids later.
SA: Favorite American team you played for?
BRIAN DUNSETH: When I close my eyes and picture myself, it's the Columbus Crew. Twenty years ago, we won the Open Cup at Crew Stadium. That group of players — Brian McBride, Chad McCarty, Kyle Martino, Jeff Cunningham, Mike Clark, Edson Buddle ... we had a fun team.
The relationships I had with the fans ... that for me, was the most fun that I can remember.
SA: How about least favorite?
BRIAN DUNSETH: With the Dallas Burn. It fell apart and we were playing at Dragon Stadium, that high school field. The team was out of playoffs, everyone was unhappy, everyone was jumping ship. No one wanted to be there. Jason Kreis had torn his ACL on that turf and all of the veterans were saying, 'No, I'm not interested.' Fights broke out. One of my favorite things was getting to connect with Oscar Pareja [current coach of Orlando City]. Oscar was up with me in New England when he first got into the league.
Being with him and hearing about the stories with Andres Escobar and everything that went down. Years later, the movie The Two Escobars comes out and they're talking about when he didn't want to talk about it publicly. But overall it just wasn't a fun time.
SA: Your fashion line?
BRIAN DUNSETH: Ah! Bumpy Pitch. My teammate and opponent who I played with at Fullerton, Ben Hooper — we created this clothing line out of nowhere. We knew nothing about everything, from trademarks to screening to design to fabrics. Little by little, we created everything for us — what we would like to wear. Something that wasn't ugly — something you could play in but also wear to the bar.
We were motivated by the old stuff that we grew up with — the old school Lotto and Puma feels that we tried to bring back. We started in 2003 and were in brick and mortars for a while. We were in the Nike Town stores doing Mexico and U.S. collaborations. It did really well but ultimately I think we were too early.
If we had launched into the market now with the same momentum, we could've done bigger and better things. Ultimately, things went sideways in terms of promises and investments. Everything wasn't as simple as we wanted and we had to pull the plug on it. But yeah, we had a website called The Original Winger, which was like our daily lifestyle culture online mag.
SA: What are you proud of regarding your clothing line?
BRIAN DUNSETH: We had Charlie Davies, Stu Holden, Tim Howard wearing our stuff. We got calls from Nike telling us that their athletes couldn't wear our stuff. And we were like, 'Don't tell me that, tell your athletes that! They can wear whatever they want.' We had David Beckham wearing it, we were on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" — Rob McElhenney wore a shirt in multiple episodes. We were doing millions of unique visitors a month to our website. We were one of the few soccer websites that was in the Complex Ad Network. It was a good run for about 16 years.
I ran into Ives Galarcep in Minnesota for the All-Star game and he told me had to put his favorite workout shirt to bed — it was a Bumpy Pitch shirt that had lasted 12 years. We were super proud of that stuff.
SA: How do you enjoy commentating these days? Why did you choose to pursue that?
BRIAN DUNSETH: I didn't want a real job and I didn't want to coach. I had this taste in my mouth that once I retired I never wanted someone single-handedly to be responsible financially for me. I never wanted someone to tell me, 'Hey, appreciate it, here's your last day.'
I went to a Real Salt Lake game soon after I retired to start my divestment from the game and the whole process of, 'Who are you?'
There was a pre- and post-game radio show. I was listening to it and it was terrible. I'm walking down the concourse and see the guys who do it. Just to bust their balls I say, 'Hey, let me know when you want someone who knows what they're talking about.'
And they were like, 'Huh? What?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, it was terrible.' And they were like, 'Well, OK, why don't you come do it?' So I did it for the rest of the year for free. The next year I got $250 a game to be the analyst. And I was down. I was doing some real estate stuff but I wasn't really happy.
That year Jason Kreis was named RSL's head coach and Robin Fraser was doing TV commentary at the time. Kreis named Fraser as one of his assistants so I got a call that they needed me to do TV. I was like, 'Great. Am I getting paid for it?' I got $650 a game. So I was like, 'Yes! I got a raise.'
I didn't know what I was doing and I still don't, really. I try to act like I'm explaining soccer to my wife — explaining without disrespecting her.
I feel more confident on the broadcast side than I did as a player. I always felt like a fraud — like I didn't belong, like everyone was way more talented than I was. Calling games feels like something that I was meant to do. It fulfills me.
SA: Biggest change in the game since your own playing days?
BRIAN DUNSETH: The athleticism and talent level on the field. More importantly, the financial infrastructure that's been put in place is the most important growth.
SA: If you could change any rule in soccer, what would it be?
BRIAN DUNSETH: That's a great question. I've never really thought about that.
Oh, easy. Because of the implementation of VAR, I would make it mandatory that the moment a controversial play started to happen, or anytime a VAR check takes place, us knuckleheads shut up and they immediately pipe in — like they do in rugby — the conversation between the VAR, the assistant referees, and the center referee.
If you did that, the fans would learn how the laws of the game are being interpreted. It would go such a long way in alleviating what is an incredible amount of pressure on the referee each and every game. There would be an education component for the fans in real time.