The people over at Fox are quite excited about Saturday night’s MLS Cup between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders, the first MLS title match on English language network television since Columbus and New York played on ABC in 2008.
“There’s a greater reach, a greater prestige to it,” said Fox Sports announcer John Strong— who will be calling Saturday night’s game with Brad Friedel and Julie Stewart-Binks— in an interview earlier this week with Awful Announcing.
The time slot and date of the game should also work to MLS’ advantage. It’s the first fall weekend without college football at night, with its main competition being ESPN’s presentation of the Heisman Trophy.
“It’s a fairly quiet landscape,” Strong said. “So that’s what I love, is how Fox and the league really worked together to say, let’s make this a big deal. Let’s give this a prestigious spot.”
Fox Sports 1 will provide its fair share of coverage over the weekend as well, beginning with a preview show that airs Friday night at 10 with Rob Stone joining Alexi Lalas, Eric Wynalda, Stu Holden, Sigi Schmid (who was fired as Seattle’s head coach in July) and Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl.
Fox will have pregame coverage at 7:30 eastern Saturday night, including an exclusive interview with U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Bruce Arena, followed by the game broadcast at 8 and the postgame show thereafter on FS1.
Since Toronto had the better regular season record, BMO Field will host the match with an estimated crowd of 36,000 expected to attend, according to Strong. That would be a few thousand more than the attendance for last month’s Canadian Football League Grey Cup, which saw 33,421 fans fill BMO’s seats.
“The renovations they did, the expansion,” Strong said, “it really looks like a big time stadium.”
Both Toronto and Seattle are making their first MLS Cup appearances, and feature star power on both sides. USMNT stalwarts Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore play for Toronto F.C., while rising national team star Jordan Morris plays for Seattle. Arena mentioned during the conference finals that he’ll be looking at another Sounders youngster, 21-year-old midfielder Cristian Roldan, for the national team’s January training camp. The Sounders also feature USMNT striker Clint Dempsey, but he’ll be out for the match while he looks to recover from an irregular heartbeat.
“It’s a matchup of big clubs in MLS that have recognizable star names,” Strong said. “And that’s an important thing when you’re trying to capture casual fans, casual soccer fans who may not watch MLS on a regular basis.”
Toronto also prominently features Italian striker Sebastian Giovinco, who was third in MLS in goals and second in assists during the regular season. With all the exciting offensive players in this game, viewers will likely not be getting a boring, slow-moving match on Saturday.
“I think you’ve got two teams that bring a lot of quality to the table, but also two teams that want to go forward, want to attack, want to play entertaining soccer,” Strong said. “So that’s where I think the odds of us having a really entertaining match are high.”
As of Friday morning, the weather in Toronto during the game was expected to be mostly clear with temperatures in the mid-20s, which would make it one of the coldest MLS Cups ever. And Strong is more than okay with that.
“For me growing up in the American sports world and being a football fan primarily, when you think of the cold weather, that’s the big games,” Strong said. “As the temperature drops, as you can see your breath, there are some snowflakes in the air— that means the playoffs, that means big time stuff. I would always rather it be freezing and just put on a few extra layers than all the games we do in the summer and it’s 100 degrees and I’m just sweating my face off on TV.”
Strong said that Fox will have numerous in-game features at its disposal, including the cable cam above the field, dirt cams embedded in the back of goals (which was used at this year’s All-Star Game and showed Tottenham’s Harry Kane blast a goal from a really unique angle), super slo-mo cams behind and goals and some interesting graphics.
“One of the things we take very seriously and we have a great pride in, is how the game sounds and how well the atmosphere comes through the television screen,” Strong said. “It’s less about us yammering on up in the booth, and more about really feeling what it would be like in the stadium. And I know it’s a big priority for our bosses and something we’re really going to make as a big deal, that you’re really going to hear and feel the atmosphere.”
The goal this weekend for Fox and MLS is that the first championship game on network TV in nearly a decade ends up being a world class broadcast.
“Fox is not messing around with this stuff, and is really plowing in some big resources,” Strong said. “Our hope and goal is that the game lives up.”