Q&A: Arlo White on his NBC gig, MLS, Seattle Sounders

TUKWILA, Wash. — Former Sounders FC broadcaster Arlo White is three weeks into his national gig with NBC Sports. The Englishman caught up with MLSsoccer.com on Thursday as he said hello to old friends and prepared for Friday night’s nationally televised broadcast between the Sounders and the visiting Houston Dynamo (10 PM ET; NBC Sports Network).

MLSsoccer.com: Viewership took a 50 percent jump in Week 2. Are you happy with that and what kind of ratings is NBC Sports hoping to achieve?

White: The focus for us at the moment isn’t necessarily the figures, it’s getting the show right. I think we’ve done a reasonable job in the first two weeks. The feedback has been positive. However, we’re two matches into a 50-game commitment, so we can improve. We know we can.

NBC Sports Preview: SEA vs HOU

The start has been good. It’s been thoroughly entertaining and the games have been good. With our pregame show and our halftime and postgame analysis, I think we’ve done really well and we’re hoping to build on that.

MLSsoccer.com: You and Kyle Martino seem to have developed a good rapport. Did you get a chance to hand-pick him to be your broadcast partner?

White: No, that was something where the league and NBC realized his talents. NBC Sports have come up with this new concept in soccer of "Between the Benches," which follows on from the "Behind the Glass" feature they have in their NHL coverage. Kyle was just the best man for the job.

He’s a great broadcaster. He dresses very sharply – we’re having a skinny tie battle at the moment – but he’s a master at breaking down play. What he can do from down there — which we’ve seen in the opening two games — is his observations. He adds another dimension to the broadcast.

He can see the facial expression of Sigi Schmid on Friday. He can see that Dominic Kinnear is having a chat with his right back because it’s happening right in front of him. Not only does he bring that knowledge of the game and the respect people have for him, he’s also bringing that other dimension.

MLSsoccer.com: Looking back on your time with the Sounders, what was your favorite goal call?

White: Normally I’m quite hard on myself, but there’s one goal call I’ve done that I don’t regret. I remember the 6-2 match against Columbus, when Josh Gardner scored the own-goal to make it six. In my mind, there’s a phrase in England when you run up the score: “Oh, it’s a cricket score.”

I started with “it’s a …“ and I thought, no, no one is going to understand what this means. So I changed it at the last split-second to It’s a tennis score. It’s 6-2, and it’s game, set and match to the Sounders.”

I thought, “Ooh! I wouldn’t take that one back.” So that one, Tyson Wahl [hitting a free-kick goal] — just big moments. Calling the US Open Cup finals, Álvaro Fernández against Portland, the Portland away match, the winning penalty by Ozzie Alonso. The guys provided some great action for a commentator.

MLSsoccer.com: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said about a referee and how far can you go in that regard? 

White: That’s a very good question. I don’t think I’ve ever completely put a referee away. I always look at the Laws of the Game which were set down the same year as the Battle of Gettysburg, in 1863. This is a tough job for a 40-something man, to cover this amount of ground. He’s only got two eyes and we’ve got super slo-mo replay.

But there were a couple of instances when the Sounders I thought were a little bit harshly treated by the officials and I probably mentioned that on air. You stop short of character assassination — you assess it as you see it. No particular barbed comments come to mind but I think I’ve served a volley to a couple of referees.