and improving. If you really listen to him, you'll hear some incredible insight into the game. Stuff every 10-year house-leaguer could use. Stuff I could've used when I was an MLS rookie, dammit!)
Truth be told, the biggest difference between TV and print is the pace. I sit at home, listen to Cinderella, and write. A live MLS broadcast is as chaotic and inexplicable as a Darren Sawatzky run down the right flank. While you, the viewer, watch the game from your La-Z-Boy, a whole carnival is taking place behind the scenes. The broadcast booth is strewn with cameras, TV monitors, headphones, mics, cables, newspapers, notepads, cameramen, a production assistant, a stat boy. Rob is doing play-by-play. Eric is babbling about how "This is a man's game." The stat boy is passing notes like a fifth-grader. And the guys in the truck are shouting out instructions like "RadioShack Magic Minute coming up ... " and "No replay, stay with he ball ... "
That seems to be the hardest part of the job -- staying focused while so much is going on. Especially that guy shouting in your headphones to do this and watch for that. It's like that garden scene in "Cyrano," only modernized and sponsored by Sierra Mist. It's like you're hitting on a girl, trying to not say anything stupid, and your wingman won't go away and instead keeps whispering hints like "Tell her you love your mother!" and "Don't look down! Her eyes! Her eyes!"
Rob and Eric have actually gotten pretty good at going with the flow. Regardless of what you think of his on-air personality, Rob is a seasoned pro, smooth and nonplussed by the pandemonium of live television. Eric is improving, learning to channel his neurotic energy into intelligent commentary without losing any of his Eric-ness.
Midway through the second half, the game heats up, and the booth boys hit their groove. They stand up. Sit down. Stand up again. They roll up their sleeves and loosen their ugly ties. They've forgotten they're on TV. They're just two guys at a bar, sipping beers, and bantering back and forth about everything and nothing. When MetroStars supersub Fabian Taylor hits his second goal of the game, in the 63rd minute, there's this exchange:
Rob: "Fabian Taylor is averaging a goal every 9 minutes."
Eric: "That's a good substitution."
Rob: "Yeah. Master of the obvious."
Later, Freddy scores. First, Rob -- being Rob, master of the hyperbole -- yells out, "We have history!" as if the Phenom's well-taken scrappy goal is on par with the discovery of the DNA molecule or the lunar landing. Then, 10 minutes later, Eric unleashes a doozy bit of Wynaldism: "Still a B for Freddy, I think. Yeah, he scored a goal, but he hasn't really done much."
Scored a goal but hasn't really done much? By that logic, Eric's own career would be a B -. Yeah, he scored a ton of goals, but he didn't really do much. Furthermore, when he didn't score, such as during a certain San Jose-Tampa Bay match late in the 1996 season when a clumsy third-string defender completely shut him down, he would've received an F. Easily my favorite soundbite of the season.
At the final whistle, I walked away with a lot of respect for what these guys do. It's different than what I do. Not better or worse, not harder or easier. Just different. I have my complaints about MLS broadcasts -- maybe a little too rah-rah, too much sponsor pandering, camera angles, etc. -- but they're improving. It's early in the season. They're still working on their chemistry, just like any team in the league.
And at least Rob and Eric don't dress like Barry Gibb and try to sell stuff like that guy who showed up on "MLS Wrap" this week. What a travesty. Heck, even writers wouldn't wear that getup to work.
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.