TUDN kicked off Major League Soccer’s 25th season with the debut of arguably the league’s second-biggest ever signing, Chicharito. It was the highlight of a day-long of soccer on TUDN, beginning with the Bundesliga in the morning, running through Chicharito’s MLS debut for the LA Galaxy against Houston and culminating with Liga MX.
Chicharito has a unique ability to move the needle in a way no other available active player can for MLS on TV. TUDN started the season with a three man booth led byJose Luis Lopez Salido. Throughout the match Diego Balado, Raul Guzman and Iván Kasanzew kept the viewers updated on Chicharito but also focused on the bigger picture in the match, the first of the new look LA Galaxy after an active off-season.
It should be noted the need to accommodate TUDN for this showdown probably explains the empty seats in Houston for the match. The match was reported as a sellout though throughout much of the game, the stadium appeared about 75% full at best.
FOX Sports’ primetime coverage of Nashville SC versus Atlanta United was outstanding. Sara Walsh and Alexi Lalas shined in hosting the pre- and post- match programs. John Strong and Stu Holden have a chemistry so many others lack in the broadcast booth with an ability to play off one another and interject conversations that might seem tangential but are interesting. Strong talks a lot during a match, maybe too much for some fans. But his knowledge and ability to interject player histories is about as good as it gets. Strong’s excitability is something that does polarize audiences. More on this shortly.
ESPN’s Sunday coverage was as you’d expect, quite competent. One big miss though for ESPN from where I sit continues to be Max Bretos. The LAFC commentator provided a historical perspective that ESPN could use in the studio or as a broadcast host. Adrian Healey (who called the Seattle-Chicago match with Alejandro Moreno) still provides that perspective.
ESPN’s top commentary team is Jon Champion and Taylor Twellman for the second season with LAFC-Inter Miami on Sunday. Champion’s general cadence and willingness to let matches flow is very different from Strong who called LAFC’s dramatic CONCACAF Champions League victory over Club Leon midweek for FS1. Both are fantastic commentators but the styles of the two lead MLS commentators in English could not be more different.
beIN SPORTS’ coverage of el Clásico
After an underwhelming midweek El Clásico presentation in December, beIN SPORTS bounced back this week. Gary Bailey and Thomas Rongen both provided good studio tactical analysis in advance of the match while George Metellus proved a capable and confident host. The use of three analysts on site added some flavor to the telecast, if not any real additional layers of analysis.
Ray Hudson, who missed December’s El Clásico broadcast, paired with Phil Schoen for this match. But oddly Hudson was more subdued than usual (relatively speaking of course). And beIN SPORTS very oddly cut off their live feed twice during the match to promote beIN SPORTS XTRA. This was not only a bad look. It really felt inappropriate.
Halftime production was crisp, and analysis from Bailey and Rongen was also quite good. But more than anything, Metellus stood out as a knowledgeable and engaging host. Since beIN SPORTS has recently lost some of its top presenters in Jeremy St Louis, Terri Leigh, Kay Murray and Kev Egan, Metellus’ emergence is welcome news for the broadcaster who has had to shuffle its talent lineup all too often in the last 18 months.
UEFA Champions League on TNT continues to confound
At this point, we just have to accept what we are getting with studio programming from TNT and B/R Live for the duration of their contract between now and the end of the 2020/21 season.
It’s difficult to rationalize the difference between the competent, professional Kate Abdo we see on FOX’s Bundesliga coverage and have previously seen at Russia 2018 with the TNT version who seems to be trying to conduct a light comedy routine. This is reminiscent of the rough start in 2013 that host Julie Stewart-Binks had on FOX Soccer Daily had. Stewart-Binks would go on to be a very good host and sideline reporter for FOX and ESPN. She became someone who could weave analysis into her role after the shackles of FOX’s lightweight show was taken off her. I sense the same with Abdo on Turner. Why she’s being cast in a role as a moderator of a clownish type set is beyond me
In Abdo’s absence, Stu Holden once again seemed to do well as a host on Wednesday. Bleacher Report’s Sam Tighe was brought to Atlanta from London and slotted in well to provide some good studio analysis in advance of Real Madrid-Manchester City and Lyon-Juventus.
Now FOX might want to consider using Holden as a studio host or play-by-play voice in the future. Holden’s pairing with John Strong is among the best combinations FOX has but Holden seems to be becoming a genuine commentary superstar with an extensive knowledge of the sport outside the United States and improving hosting abilities.
Robbie Mustoe showcases his continental knowledge
Premier League Live on Friday spent more time on European results and discussion than any time I can recall in the seven seasons NBC has broadcast the Premier League. Rebecca Lowe directed Kyle Martino and Robbie Mustoe through a full discussion of the midweek UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League matches including extensive highlights.
During the program, Mustoe showed off his knowledge of continental football in the analysis.
Back in the days of ESPN Press Pass, Mustoe was a go-to studio analyst on Italian and Spanish football. As great as Mustoe’s contributions have been to Premier League-related conversations, I always feel like he’s being wasted at NBC focused on a single league.
It should also be noted that during this segment, Martino — refreshingly for an American pundit — talked about Alphonso Davies as a player and his impact on Bayern, instead of using the opportunity to talk up MLS (the league where Davies began his professional career), which is what I reckon most Americans would do in that situation.
In general, NBC behaves like the Premier League is a self-contained English competition often discussing through the years more about domestic cup competitions than European football. The success of English clubs in Europe during the 2018-19 season (though it must be pointed out neither Spurs or Liverpool actually won their groups in the Champions League and both then had a difficult road to the final) seems to have changed NBC’s attitude to the competitions. With the Premier League poised to have finalists or even again multiple finalists in both UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League this season, expect more NBC conversation about Europe.
Ups and downs on ESPN FC
It seems the memos from our World Soccer Talk Podcast and this column have been received at ESPN regarding using their studio talent more. The postponement of Juventus-Inter due to the Coronavirus outbreak in Italy may have scrapped ESPN’s plans for Sunday. But the network persisted with a studio of Dan Thomas, Craig Burley and Steve Nicol for both the Lecce-Atalanta Serie A match on ESPN2 and the Carabao Cup Final on ESPN+ and the ESPN App.
Steve Nicol made perhaps the most important point of the week at halftime of the Lecce-Atalanta match. Lazio now top the Serie A table, but the club does not have anywhere near the squad depth as Juventus or Inter. If postponements continue to pile up as they likely will due to Coronavirus, Lazio will be at a disadvantage if matches are played every 3-4 days to complete the season.
Audio problems marred the halftime show of the Carabao Cup Final, forcing ESPN to stay with the world feed and then run a large number of commercials on loop. What resulted was a brief, abbreviated halftime show that ran about three minutes. The studio team didn’t cover the ground that it would have liked to have while reminding us that even ESPN, the market leader in sports broadcasts, has technical problems from time to time.
The post match show was focused on the brilliant Manchester City youngster Phil Foden, as well as selecting the controversy at the end of the Everton-Man United Premier League match. Steve Nicol’s analysis was again spot on when discussing De Gea’s line of sight.