The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with our Best of 2011 awards, running Dec. 19 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS and US international players, including American Export, Gaffe of the Year and, via fan vote, the Moment of the Year.
Next up is the MLS Broadcast Call of the Year, which goes to Portland Timbers play-by-play man John Strong. Correspondent John Bolster takes a look at Strong's award-winning call of Darlington Nagbe's Goal of the Year.
Portland Timbers broadcaster John Strong is just thankful Darlington Nagbe went for that second juggle.
The Timbers’ rookie winger was about to score the Goal of the Year in Major League Soccer, collecting a partial clearance at the top of the box with a juggling touch—and then another….
According to Strong, that extra split second was crucial.
“The fact that he took the second touch, juggling to himself, actually helped me to get the call right,” Strong says. “Because it gave me time to get his full name out and to get a sense of, 'OK, he’s going to try something here.'”
Did he ever. After the second juggle, Nagbe hammered a perfect shot into the upper left corner of the Kansas City net.
It was a sensational goal, absolutely worthy of the award it won. And now, largely due to that famous second touch, Nagbe’s strike has yielded another honor:
Strong’s pitch-perfect narration of the play is our MLS Broadcaster Call of the Year.
As expertly as his commentary matches the action—“It falls for Darlington NagBEEE! Oh! It’s absolutely brilliant…!”—Strong’s main concern, he says, was simply “to not screw it up.”
There seems to be a sense of anticipation in the call, as if Strong knew what was coming. But anticipation can be tricky territory for a broadcaster, because even as Nagbe readied the shot, there was no guarantee that he was going to hit it so well.
“Ninety-nine percent of the times, a guy tries something like that, he puts it in the stands, or he puts it off the scoreboard,” says Strong.
“So, really—and it’s true with any great moment that you’re calling—you can’t anticipate and expect it’s going to happen. What you’re really doing is trying to not screw it up.”
He certainly succeeded on that front, and Strong is quick to credit his broadcast partner, former Jamaican international Robbie Earle, who instantly provided context and insight.
“Robbie made a great point — and half of the good call is his — that we know Nagbe has got some great potential, we’ve been hearing it from coach [John] Spencer, and we’ve seen little flashes of it, but he’s been battling injuries. Now he’s started to get more playing time, and then he does something like that. It’s just insane.”
As for the legacy of the 2011 Goal of the Year, Strong believes it’s a legit calling card for the league. Because while the goal did not galvanize the Timbers like it might have — they lost the game 2-1, and they stayed mired in their summer losing streak for another week — it features a number of powerful selling points for the league.
“It’s a great advertisement for MLS for people around the world: It’s YouTubed,” he says. “You’ve got a really world-class goal, in a great atmosphere in a full stadium, and you’ve got a halfway-decent broadcast call on it, hopefully.”
Not just halfway-decent. Award-winning.
Because of moments like this, NBC chose White for its upcoming MLS broadcasts: “The crowd can sense something special here. And they get something special!”
Also: moments like this (it’s going to be fun having him behind the mic in 2012): “I say!"
WATCH: The MLS Broadcast Call of the Year