The opening weekend of MLS featured two new clubs and a new stadium.
The action opened Friday night as Portland hosted new entrant Minnesota United FC, a team that has spent the last six seasons in the second-division NASL. FOX Sports was broadcasting the match and did a wonderful job of capturing the atmosphere in Portland, which is arguably the best in North America. John Strong, who previously broadcast Timbers games, was well prepared as usual, and called a great game. Alexi Lalas was excellent in co-commentary, often delving into some of the concerns about Minnesota’s defending in describing the poor shape at the back but also giving lots of tidbits about players and midfield movement.
Technical problems marred the first half of the game, and halftime was marked by Caleb Porter’s rather tense interview with Katie Witham as well as MLS Commissioner Don Garber saying nothing of value at halftime. Porter is a character, the likes of which MLS needs more of, but you could see in his eyes he didn’t want to do the interview and he did not seem at all pleased by his team’s unwillingness to press the issue after an opening goal. This brings the issue of halftime interviews up – mandated by MLS in a very American sporting way but not something that happens in the rest of the world during broadcasts of this sport. Porter is an intense manager and probably doesn’t want to be bothered with spilling his emotions in the middle of a match on national TV – but is forced to. What is the logic of these interviews and do they give any real insight or enhance broadcasts? Occasionally yes, but usually no.
On Saturday, the lone national TV game was the new-look LA Galaxy hosting Supporters Shield winners FC Dallas on UniMas. Even without the injured Mauro Diaz, Dallas looked good value and Univision’s broadcast featured excellent production value.
As has been regularly the case in the last few seasons, MLS Digital was hard at work during the matches cutting highlights and producing analysis pieces about the games on Saturday, making it a must-visit destination for MLS fans. It’s a pity European leagues don’t take their cues from MLS in this regard.
Sunday’s ESPN broadcast of Orlando City-New York City a match, which was the first at Orlando’s new stadium, was excellent from the broadcast crew perspective. Julie Stewart-Binks is an outstanding addition to the ESPN team and Taylor Twellman, as usual, was in form. I do have an issue with the camera work during this match, however. Many of the wide shots were difficult to follow and were unacceptable. This brings up the issue that plagues many American soccer broadcasts – that cameramen and women still don’t know how to shoot this sport properly and often make mistakes because they are shooting soccer the way they shoot American football or baseball. I can’t pinpoint specific wide shots that annoyed me, but it happened multiple times during this broadcast.