Thursday Night MLS is back.
A few weeks ago, I was watching an MLS game–I believe it was Houston vs. Los Angeles–and I suddenly noticed the commentary. I’m more a data hound during games, looking at the ticker for stats or listening to the broadcast merely for facts I’ve missed.
Then a simple late tackle was made and I found myself listening to Kyle Martino describe how and why it happened. Thrifty and on-point. Pithy.
I was hooked. I listened to Martino the rest of the game and emailed our ESPN contact to set up a time to chat with Martino basically just because I wanted to. No angle.
Most reading TSG probably know Kyle Martino as member of the Los Angeles Galaxy in more of a bit role. Before injuries took their toll on Martino–who would have formed a great non-magic spray partnership with John O’Brien–the UVA alum was once a high school player of the year and MLS rookie of the year. The latter in 2002.
Now, as injures wrapped up a career before it should have ended, Martino does his soccer work from the booth, much to my current delight. While he’s on the box for MLS, shortly you’ll be able to delight in Martino calling World Cup games on ESPN Radio.
Now, to Kyle.
TSG: Okay, Kyle, thanks for joining us. Where are you headed today?
Kyle Martino: I’m heading to do the Real Salt Lake-Philly Union game in Salt Lake.
(Note: This interview was recorded May 6th.)
TSG: I typically don’t recognize announcers unless they are good or bad. If they’re average, then I don’t really hear them.
I was listening the other day to one of your games and you made some excellent points. Then I listened intently to you the rest of the game.
Your commentary is simple and effective.
That’s the lead-in; here’s the question.
Do you have a certain style? How do you think about planning and delivering each game?
KM: I think for me. I think the reason the feedback has been so positive is that my style is I approach games like I would like to listen to them.
I remember being always being so turned off by announcers that would either talk to much and try to really put way too much of their print on the game or talk too much about themselves.
I remember many times having to stop watching and listening to soccer games because of the commentary.
When I got to the booth, I really wanted to take responsibility and deliver simple thoughts.
Be an easy listen and have my thoughts and comments mesh with the game.
TSG: How do you prepare for each game? Do you watch video, do you draw from your playing experience?
KM: Really, it’s funny. Having to stop playing because of an injury and being young in this industry, I’m commenting on players that I played with and against. I’ll be doing that for the next 10 years.
A lot of my material is because it’s still so fresh because I just played versus some of the players, coaches or team. A lot of it is the knowledge that I’ve built up and already have.
The rest of it is just research. I read a lot and go to a number of Web sites during the day and find out what’s going on.
Lastly, I still have about two or three good buddies per team. I’m getting ready to go into Salt Lake and I’m going to hang out with Kyle Beckerman and Chris Wingert and get the skinny on what’s really going on in the locker-room and what’s going on on the field.
TSG: Do those friendships prohibit you from praising or criticizing players? Do you feel like, “Hey, I can’t praise him too much because he’s my buddy?”
KM: That’s a really good question. No, I try to be as objective as possible regardless if it is a good friend or someone I couldn’t stand playing against.
I give praise when praise is deserved and criticism when that is deserved. I’m not the type of guy that is going to talk about my favorite player and say positive things if he’s knocking the ball off his shin out of bounds all game. I’m not going to hold back.
For me, one of the reasons I love doing it so much is that it’s the perfect distance from the game since I can’t play anymore.
If I have a PHD or an MDA or any sort of credential in anything, it’s in soccer.
I like being able to have the responsibility of documenting what’s going on in the game.
TSG: What are some surprises this year in MLS?
KM: Well, first, three teams in Canada. Never thought it would grow that fast up there.
Watching the league this season? One of the biggest surprises is DC United.
When we used to look at DC United on the schedule we thought that would be one of the hardest games we’d play all year long.
Unfortunately, DC United is not living up to its history; it’s been kind of amazing to see them not only at the bottom of the table but also not playing good soccer either.
It’s not very surprising to see LA back where it was once upon a time–under Bruce playing some amazing soccer.
Having Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle; two guys I played with growing up and two guys I knew how good they were.
Edson more so than Landon actually.
You never really questioned Edson’s talent growing up.
TSG: That’s a great segue if you don’t mind me entering in here.
One of the things we often we hear with players like Edson and Herculez Gomez is how does their game “translate” to the international game. “Translate” being the operative word used.
You look at Jeff Cunningham, who scored a boatload towards the end of last year, but doesn’t appear to be near making the squad this time around.
You grew up with Buddle. You watch him a lot now. How do you think his game translates to the international level?
KM: It’s interesting. Every coach has a different criteria to determine whether they can make it on the international level.
There have been plenty of players that played in the league that never made it over the threshold necessary to compete internationally, a guy like a Steve Ralston comes to mind. Great, great MLS player, but didn’t happen for him on the international level.
Hard to put a finger on why that is, but when I think about a player like Edson Buddle…..
One thing that is extremely important for coaches is their mentality of the player. Will they fit into a system? Will they buy in to what the coach wants them to do?
It used to be a question with Edson–he had some things going on off the field–no one ever really knew if he was as mentally as strong as he needed to be to play at that level.
The next thing is when you’re playing a tournament, like the World Cup, and it’s such a short time to recover from game to game, coaches are really looking for players with no track record of health issues and able to recover.
I’m sure those are two flags that kept Buddle out of international play.
Because when it comes down to it, there is not another big forward in the league like Edson….with his size, strength, speed, and his goal scoring ability.
I think people are waiting to see if this is just another spike by him and he’ll get injured or his form will drop.
If he plays the way the way he has the beginning the season, it’s no question he should be going to the World Cup.
TSG: Two bullets on the Yanks in South Africa.
KM: For me I think the big thing to look at is…we’ve come a long way as a national team.
A big part of it is our players not going and playing overseas and getting experiencing in games that are similar to the level of play of the international ones.
For me, when I look at our team I see so much talent now.
I think we showed at the Confederation Cup that we’re capable of really shaking things up and being able to beat anybody on our best day.
The only problem is the World Cup is a whole new beast.
Having so many guys without World Cup experience on the roster is kind of an “x” factor.
You don’t know how someone is going to react once they hit that field out there in the World Cup scenario.
I had dinner with Landon Donovan in the city (New York City) when he was in a few weeks ago.
He said, “I think our team’s great and I love our chances…..I just wonder how some of these guys are going to react playing in a World Cup.”
I’ve played in World Cup qualifers, internationals, and Confederation Cup, it’s a big jump to get into those tournaments, but it’s not even close to the jump you make going to the World Cup.
TSG: One final question for you. TSG has written ad nauseam that the biggest entity that can push soccer the most in United States is ESPN because they can introduce the sport to passionate fans from other sports.
React to that statement.
KM: That’s a really good point.
We sit around and argue this point all the time.
For me, ESPN is the 900-pound gorilla in the room. They’re the monster. They’re almost a monopoly.
Fox Soccer Channel has recently stepped up to compete and for deliver the game of soccer to the fan.
The thing that needs to happen….well we’re spoon-fed what we’re interested in by media.
For sports fans, SportsCenter tells us what we should be interested in,
Finally SportsCenter has started to recognize soccer in the United States; they’ve got in top ten plays, etc.
When we’re talking about converting the average sports fan into a soccer fan, it’s going to take soccer showing up their plate everyday like other sports. to understand the story lines.
When ESPN and SportsCenters starts bringing into people’s homes every day, people will start buying into the storylines.
That’s when American fans are going to say okay this sport is here to stay.
TSG: Great answers Kyle. Thanks for your time.
KM: Great talking. I’m sure we’ll chat again this season.