There's a new team in Major League Soccer this year, and we're not just talking about the Montreal Impact, MLS's 19th franchise. NBC now shares English-language TV rights with ESPN and will air 41 regular-season games on the NBC Sports Network (the channel formerly known as Versus) and three on NBC proper.
Season 17 kicks off this weekend, and the first nationally televised game features two strong contenders, FC Dallas hosting the New York Red Bulls (Sunday, 3/2c, NBC Sports Network). "You've got a lot of firepower in this match-up, and these two teams reflect the general ethos of the league this year, which will be [to] attack and produce entertaining soccer," says Arlo White, who will serve as the main play-by-play announcer for NBC/NBC Sports Network. He'll partner with analyst Kyle Martino, who will be sitting at field level during the game.
White, a former BBC Radio announcer in his native England, won kudos in Seattle for his work on local telecasts for the Seattle Sounders and has seen MLS steadily improve in quality on the field. "I can tell you having spent three months in the UK during the off-season, that Major League Soccer is mentioned more times in the English football media than I've ever heard before," he says. "The league has gone from something of a joke overseas to something approaching legitimacy in the eyes of soccer fans around the world. People have seen that it's being done correctly, that it's not beating its chest and shouting from the mountain top that they're the best."
American fans have become just as soccer savvy as their international counterparts and White promises that NBC's coverage won't insult their intelligence. "Soccer fans are very sophisticated in the United States," he says. "They don't need to be spoon fed. So don't expect many explanations of the offside rule. We're going to be covering it as if people know this sport."
Here are some upcoming nationally televised games:
Sunday, March 11: New York Red Bulls at FC Dallas (3/2c, NBC Sports Network)
Monday, March 12: Philadelphia Union at Portland Timbers (9:30/8:30c, ESPN2)
Sunday, March 18: Colorado Rapids at Philadelphia Union (4/3c, NBC Sports Network)
Friday, March 23: Houston Dynamo at Seattle Sounders (10/9c, NBC Sports Network)
Sunday, March 25: Colorado Rapids at New York Red Bulls (4/3c, ESPN)
A full schedule can be found at mlssoccer.com.
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