Covering an MLS match for the first time: One writer’s story

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                                                                                     Photo by ISIphotos.com

Ever wonder what it’s like being a soccer writer? Ever imagine what it must be like being new to the job and getting the chance to cover your first MLS game? Carl Setterlund had the chance to experience just that last weekend as he covered the New England-Toronto FC match for his local paper.

Who is Carl Setterlund? He is the newest SBI correspondent and someone who will be contributing quite a bit from here on out. After attending the Revs-TFC match, and writing his newspaper story, Setterlund took the time out to give us his take on covering his first MLS match.

By CARL SETTERLUND

“It’s 11:19 and I’m writing this from the press box at Gillette Stadium and no matter how many times I say it to myself over and over, that notion still sounds just as awesome to me. I’ve sent in my article to the paper I write for, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and the pressure is off, my night is done. I’ve never played in a major soccer match, but I’d imagine this is the same high you feel after scoring your first goal in front of the home crowd, albeit at a much lower level, but essentially the same elation.

It all began last Monday when I looked in my inbox and saw a message from my editor that said, “Are you interested in covering the Revs for us on Saturday? Let me know and I can give you the details.” Now, I’ve worked at this newspaper for over a year but the biggest thing I’d covered before this was University of Massachusetts football. I figured he must have remembered when I’d pleaded to tag along as an intern to the MLS Cup, only to find out the press pass deadline had already passed.

The regular Revs writer, Brendan McGrail, also covers NASCAR for the T&G and there was a race in New Hampshire that same day so I assume that’s why they needed me. Either way, who cares what the reason is, you know?

I’m still up here in the Blue Level, the second level of the press box, but it’s about 11:30 and I want to get out of the way of the Revs scorekeeping and communications crew that’s still checking over everything from the night. Most of the press sit on the Red Level, a floor below, but Brendan told me it would be easier to focus on the game on the less congested Blue Level and that the Revs staff are up there and they’d help me out. I’m glad I heeded his advice, because everything went pretty smoothly.

Before I go though, I’m filling out my All-Star ballot. Yep, that’s right, not only did I fill out a fan ballot, I get to do one as a member of the media as well. I was flat out excited at getting that opportunity. No, I’m not quite Peter Gammons voting for who goes to Cooperstown, but it’s still fun to be recognized as a member of the media. For the record, my ballot (a little Revs-heavy) looked like this:

Forwards: Kenny Cooper and Landon Donovan Midfielders: David Beckham, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Shalrie Joseph, Steve Ralston and Robbie Rogers Defenders: Bakary Soumare, Drew Moor and Michael Parkhurst Goalkeeper: Matt Reis

Not perfect by any means. I’m willing to submit that I might have gone with some stars over more deserving guys. And on defense I know Michael Parkhurst from watching him, but you don’t see many defensive highlights when you’re catching up on the other games so I sort of went with word-of-mouth there.

Anyways, I’m back home now writing this and let’s take you guys back and go over the whole experience. I’ll link you to my article, but other than that I’ll try to stick to the actual experience itself and let Andrew Karl handle the analysis (he’ll probably do a better job of it anyways).

My workday started out a little earlier than usual on Saturday because in big games I like to do my homework beforehand on the situation. In this case, I didn’t have to do any background on the Revs, but I studied my fare share of Frank Dell’Apa (the Boston Globe’s former soccer writer) to see how a quality footy article is constructed. At around 4 p.m. I started my research, and a little past the half-hour I went out to for a run to work off some of the jitters. I was, to put it lightly, a little nervous. Who has ever heard of an 18-year-old kid in the press box at Gillette Stadium? I’ve covered much smaller events where people say, “Hey, kid, this area is for the press. Get outta here!” Then I have to show them my badge, then my press pass and so on. Frankly, I was thinking, “Will they even let me into the stadium?”

I was told to get there at 7:00 so I’d have time to get situated, but I was in the parking lot at 6:00. Hey, better safe than sorry, right? Everything went beyond smooth. I have to say, New England is just a peach of an organization. From the players and coaches on down to the security guards, everyone is kind and friendly.

I walked over to the elevator to take me to the press box and got in, then someone, very hurried-looking, scurried in behind me: Frank Dell’Apa, one of my soccer writing idols. I didn’t have the cojones to introduce myself, but it was cool nonetheless.

When I got upstairs, I looked at the scoreboard and saw there were still 81 minutes until kickoff and I knew I was there in plenty of time. So, I got all of the pre-game stuff, the game notes and the media guides, then I introduced myself to director of communications Lizz Summers, who was extremely helpful, and headed down to the Red Level to get some chow. The food they had there was superb. I had to remind myself that I was there to cover the game not to rate the selection, but you know the cooking staff is a cut above when they don’t just have peach cobbler, they have peach-rhubarb cobbler with homemade whipped cream.

The next hour I didn’t do too much. I just sat around re-reading the notes and texting and instant messaging friends about how nervous and excited I was, so let’s fast-forward through that.

Any nerves I had went away when the game started. As a friend told me, I know soccer and so if I call the game like I would any other, I’d be fine. The view from the press box is great so I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the action. I wrote down some notes and got to introduce some of the soccer words Andy Gray has taught me (sorry, Tommy Smyth). The cool thing about the press box is that you see things so much clearer. When someone is offside, it’s obvious. By the way, Danny Dichio would be one of the best players in MLS if he weren’t offside or fouling someone whenever he gets the ball. He had five offsides called on him, but I guess such is the life of a forward, always living on the edge, so to speak.

It was an easy game to write about, which helped me out a lot. You always hate having to write about another team winning or having to find something positive to say about a sloppy game. But, for the first 75 minutes the Revs were pretty dominant and created a lot of chances. Steve Ralston was there to put the rebound into the back of the net on two occasions, continuing his clutch play while Taylor Twellman is out (actually Twellman entered in the 79th minute to build up some match fitness, so he’s sort of back). Mauricio Castro and Sainey Nyassi were dynamic on the wings, Nyassi with his speed and Castro with his intelligence. Kheli Dube was phenomenal once again and played about as good as someone can without scoring and even Adam Cristman looked skilled out there instead of just being a clean-up-the-mess sort of forward. In the end, the score was 2-1 in favor of the Revs, but it could just as easily have been 5-0 the way the game went.

When the ref blew the final whistle, I scampered down to the press conference with everyone else and waited for Steve Nicol. I promised myself I’d ask him at least one question and I posed something about how Ralston put himself in the right place to make a play. It was a rush though, especially since I’m also a big Liverpool fan. The best part about the interviews was that everyone was exactly how I imagined them beforehand. Nicol was a wily Scotsman. Matt Reis was dapper and well-spoken. Michael Parkhurst was the definition of laid back. Chris Albright was a hip, California-type and Jeff Larentowicz was a 6’1 version of Ron Weasley, with he and Albright cracking jokes while the press flocked around Ralston. Steve was perhaps the coolest out of everybody, very humble and thoughtful, the kind of person who looks you in the face when he talks to you.

I didn’t want to leave, but I had to run back up to the press box to finish my article and meet my deadline. I ended up sending everything in at 11 p.m. with an article I thought I could be half-proud of. I’m a perfectionist and I don’t like leaving out the details (you can probably tell by how long this is) but I had to send in what I had at that point.

All in all, covering a New England Revolution game has been the highlight of my summer so far. Every so often I question whether sports writing is really the path for me, but I know at heart that I’m a soccer junkie and experiences like this only reinforce that. I’ve already emailed my editor thanking him profusely for this opportunity and my message to all you amateur writers out there is to keep trucking because it’s all worth it in the end when you finally get chances like these.

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20 Responses to Covering an MLS match for the first time: One writer’s story

  1. peter says:

    that was a fantastic read, really interesting to hear about the experience. congrats on the opportunity!

  2. mig22 says:

    Welcome to the Show, Carl. Cool article.!

  3. Reid says:

    Great article, good luck in the future…. do well and maybe you’ll be the next Dell’Apa. First step grow a sweet mustache

  4. Lee says:

    Great job!

  5. Carl Setterlund says:

    To see that mustache in person is beyond intimidating. That guy can really grow it out. Seemed like the life of the party too. I didn’t talk to him myself but most of the other writers sort of flocked around him.

  6. Roger says:

    Good stuff

  7. Roger says:

    Good stuff

  8. Chris says:

    Reading about your experience was a great thrill for me. I’m too old (39) to change careers and become a soccer writer, but you’ve taken the first step. Keep it up and have fun!

  9. Jimmy Bobo says:

    Nice commentary, kid. That sports editor of yours really did you a favor and I appreciate that you thanked him profusely. Good luck with your sportswriting in the future.

  10. Juan-John says:

    Nice gamer and subsequent description. Both were very well written.

  11. Topher says:

    nice job Carl. good luck in the future!

  12. Carl Setterlund says:

    re: Jimmy

    I fully realize that I’m a lucky guy to get chances like these at such a young age. I have nothing but good things to say about my editor and all the people at the Worcester Telegram. In fact, they’re letting me cover the US Open Cup match against the Richmond Kickers too. Should be a blast.

  13. George H says:

    Carl,

    Great job on both the article and the post. Enjoyed reading them.

  14. inkedAG says:

    What? No snarky comments from some of the holier-than-thou SBI readers??

  15. brian says:

    Wow! That was the best article i’ve read in a long time. I always like reading a behind the scenes take on sports. Look forward to reading your stuff all the time.

    Cheers mate!

  16. Shamus says:

    Great job man, it’s refreshing to get the perspective of someone who doesn’t see this kind of stuff all the time. Pretty good job for a noob. Hope to read more of you soon.

  17. William says:

    Who’s the cute broad in the front row of that picture?

  18. combo breaker karma says:

    tl;dr

    :D

  19. Vic says:

    First off, that was an awesome read. Secondly, are you thinking about maybe coming over here to Spain to cover some soccer games? If you were that would be awesome.

    You’d have a place to stay in, too!

    haha

  20. Carl Setterlund says:

    Haha, you’re a very hospitable man Vic but I don’t think that’s in the cards for me for at least a couple years. Even the biggest American soccer writers are usually only in Europe for the World Cup/Euros/Champions League type stuff. I hope I get to visit you guys again though before you come back to the states. Thanks for checking out the article.