Harris is founder and editor of World
Soccer Talk (2005), for comprehensive coverage and analysis.
are as different as night and day, but as
a duo, the encyclopaedic Phil Schoen and rhapsodic Ray Hudson
are arguably soccer's (the beautiful game's) most eloquent
and insightful broadcasters. While in Miami, Christopher Harris
had an opportunity to sit down and talk-pitch with Phil Schoen.
HARRIS: Phil, the first question I have is from one of World Soccer
Talk’s readers, Bill Reese. And Bill says, were you always
comfortable being the straight man to Ray Hudson’s theatrics
or did you grow into your partnership?
SCHOEN: I would say you have to adapt or you get mowed down because
Ray is Ray and he’s going to be who he is. And again, one
thing just to elaborate on that point, some people think it’s
an act. Some people think it’s over the top, but, and admittedly
if there’s a soccer game on the passion’s up, the
volume comes up a little bit closer to 11. But Ray is real. I
mean, and I think that’s one reason that the fans appreciate
that passion. I’ve had the chance to work with other commentators
that can be a little bit over the top, but Ray more than anyone
gives you that combination of the tactics along with the passion.
And tactics are very, very important. But you also have to remember
that it’s passion that drives the fans’ passion and
one thing from my perspective growing up as a fan of the Big Four
in North America and just understanding the different styles of
those broadcasts before I even thought about being a broadcaster
myself, I understand that a football announcer has a different
style than a baseball announcer. A different style than a basketball
or a hockey announcer. So he needs to be flexible. And I was able
to commentate all of those earlier on in my career.
as being the straight man, maybe growing up watching so much Laurel
and Hardy and The Three Stooges definitely helped. But I think
it’s more, again, the fact that it is a game. And thankfully
it’s very, very rare that a life depends upon who wins or
loses. It’s a lot easier to go to sleep at night. And while
it is important to respect the game for what it is and what it
means, it’s also entertainment. It’s also enjoyment.
And no one really likes when their team loses, but most of the
time someone’s going to win, someone’s going to lose
so our job over those two hours is to try and to entertain. And
some of that is through the factual aspect, and some of that is
just through perhaps the commentary between Ray and myself.
think it’s probably part of my style regardless of who I
work with. But I think with Ray, he catches it. Maybe he appreciates
it, and maybe he just magnifies it to the point as opposed to
just give and take. It’s give and take and take and give
and it just kind of goes from there. So I do think that I am a
slightly different announcer when I’m working with someone
other than Ray, but it’s probably just more the package
than anything I’m doing.
HARRIS: Do you remember the first game you ever commentated with
Ray? And if you listen to the audio of that, would it be similar
to what we’re getting today or has it evolved over time?
SCHOEN: I don’t remember if we had done any of the old A-League
Fort Lauderdale Strikers games. I know I did some things with
Thomas Rongen back then, but I don’t know if I actually
worked with Ray. If I did, it was maybe once until the Miami Fusion.
And I was able to meet with Ray through a mutual friend of ours,
Jeff Rusnak. Our paths crossed. We would go out to dinner. I remember
going to watch Ray with the Hollywood Wildcats when he was coaching.
They couldn’t have been much older than 10 or 11 year olds,
and they’re basically like a bunch of kids running around
chasing them at knee level and he was having a blast. He was having
I said, what you hear is Ray. Maybe it’s turned up a tiny
bit because Messi just beat 10 people, but from the very first
day doing the Miami Fusion, and admittedly we didn’t have
Messi, but we did have [Carlos] Valderrama. That was him. And
maybe one thing that might have changed a little bit is back with
the Fusion as an expansion team in that situation in that time
period where really there wasn’t a whole bunch of entertainment
going on. To the point now where again, thank God we have the
luxury of calling Messi, calling Ronaldo, calling Ramos or Benzema
or Neymar on a weekly basis. So something is going to happen that’s
highlight material. And so maybe that gives us just a little bit
more of an entertainment factor than back in the first days. But
I don’t think it’d be that much different. I personally
would not want to go too much further back in my broadcasting
career and I hope those tapes were all burned [laughs], but I
don’t think much has changed in 20 years.
HARRIS: So speaking of change, looking at LaLiga, you’ve
been commentating games for many years before beIN SPORTS and
GolTV. But if you compare the production level nowadays in LaLiga
featuring the number of cameras, 360 degree angles, augmented
reality and other types of technology, how has it changed from
when you were beginning commentating LaLiga to what it is now?
SCHOEN: I don’t know if it would be really that much more
noticeable because you can only really have one camera on at a
and in fact I just did some International Champions Cup Futures
stuff in Bradenton where for some of the games I think there were
three maybe four cameras, but they also had a drone which gave
you different perspectives. And if you’re just sitting at
home watching, you could have sworn there were like six or seven.
Now, six or seven used to be the standard shoot for MLS. And if
it’s any less than that, I do think you notice a static
repetitiveness at times, especially if the camera positions aren’t
the greatest, but even going back to the very beginning of of
LaLiga, I think that the ability and the knowledge of the people
putting the broadcast out was right up there with the NFL, right
up there with baseball, NBA hockey, et cetera, that they had some
of the best production elements in the world.
has advanced since then, which means now they have more toys.
And one thing I’ve learned by the way, dating back to Mike
Cohen, who was the producer back in the start of the ESPN coverage
of MLS. Just because you have a toy doesn’t mean you have
to play with it. And I think sometimes there’s a tendency
to want to overdo it with the latest technology. And I think that
maybe with the 360 cam, some people think that might have gone
over the top a little bit. Now I think fans like it when it pops
up. Again, maybe because the technology has advanced that it’s
a little less jittery. Going back to sky cams and go cams and
everything else, microphones in the middle of the field. MLS,
by the way, was probably at the forefront of many of these technologies
that are now starting to take over a little bit more because fans
want to be more involved.
as far as the modern game right now, I mean, it’s amazing
when you consider it was like 30 or 40 cameras total for the last
Clásico. And you don’t have to worry about tape decks
anymore because everything is now digital, and there’s backups
to backups. It’s phenomenal, and I could only imagine where
things are going pretty soon. Ray and I are probably going to
be sitting on the couch next year in some virtual reality, but
if that’s the case make sure you have enough deep dish [pizza]
HARRIS: What’s your opinion about LaLiga wanting to play
League games in the United States. And they’ve mentioned
Miami as a place that they’ve been trying to for a couple
of years. Being the lead announcer for LaLiga on the English language
side in the United States, is that something that you agree or
SCHOEN: I’d say I have mixed feelings. As a fan, it would
be phenomenal to get a chance to experience that. And I’ve
had the chance to go do Clásicos in Barcelona, Clásicos
in Real Madrid. And I think that’s also something to consider
because I’ve been at the Hard Rock Stadium when Barcelona
was facing Chivas and there were 70,000 fans there. It was phenomenal.
It’s not the same. Partly perhaps because it was an exhibition,
but it’s also the fact that the hardcore fans — and
there are some over here…there are some transplants…
Growing up as an Arsenal fan, I don’t say I’d put
myself up with whoever comes out of North London, but I’ve
followed them since the days with Charlie George. I still can’t
compare with the ones that would be popping on the tube and go
to game-in, game-out for year after year from the time that their
dad or granddad took them until now where they’re bringing
their kids or grandkids.
is something that’s missing when you transplant a game from
its natural environment into an artificial one. However, if there
is any place you can pull it off, it’s the United States.
There is no better nation to live in if you’re a soccer
fan than the United States because you can watch pretty much every
league from every country on earth. I also think from a sporting
perspective, I can understand why some of the clubs are against
it because some team is going to lose a home game. And it could
be Barcelona against Atletico Madrid. Even a very popular team.
They come over here, the odds are 80% Barcelona fans if not more.
And if that was an Atletico home game, that could affect a race,
that could affect a title.
can understand from a sporting perspective why some would be against
it. Obviously there’s other leagues like the NFL that continue
to do it now with the talk of a 17th game. Who knows how many
games are going to be played in Mexico, and Japan, and England,
and beyond? There is a reason because you do want to grow the
game. And that’s why LaLiga wants to do it. They’re
trying to, I guess, one up the EPL who have some of the best marketing
and management in any world sport. And LaLiga is trying to get
one up on them and I can understand why I think it’s going
to happen. I don’t know if it’s going to be game 37
or if it’s going to be, maybe everyone plays two outside.
So everyone loses a home and an away game.
the main thing is to keep it fair. And if they can do that, if
they can then also grow the fan base from a personal perspective,
the more popular LaLiga is, the better it is for be in, the better
it is for broadcasters, the better it is for soccer fans in the
HARRIS: You travel a lot, and oftentimes you go to central America
— Honduras and other places. Do you get to see how popular
LaLiga is in that region of the world?
SCHOEN: Well, I think obviously anywhere you go in Latin America,
there’s going to be a connection. I think when I’ve
been to Canada, it tends to be more on the English side and the
Scottish side. Although that’s changing. The Italian side
even, but that’s changing just again because of the dominance.
Especially the decade where Cristiano and Lionel Messi were grabbing
headlines. Now that Cristiano has moved on, maybe it’s come
back a little bit. Messi getting a little bit older, I think people
are starting to prepare for a transition. And while maybe you
do end up having players that are jumping up like a Neymar, like
an Mbappe, like a Haaland, they’re not in LaLiga at the
a year’s time, that could change. They could all three be
there. But there is something about it and I think it goes beyond.
There’s the old joke about England and the United States,
two nations separated by the same language. You could say there’s
part of that when you talk about Latinos and people from Spain,
but I also think in many cases more than English there’s
a bind, there’s a tie.
one of the strangest things that ever happened to me about five
years ago on my first mission trip to Honduras, it’s an
island off the coast called Roatan, which used to be an English
colony. So there’s still a majority English speaking population,
but there’s a lot of people that have come over from the
mainland because that’s where some of the work is. So it’s
a mix, English and Spanish. But basically somewhere I had never
off the plane, come through security with my bags and I’m
walking. I swear it might even be before I made it out to the
terminal, people are pointing at me. And I, first of all, I’m
checking to make sure that my fly is done and they’re there.
But it ended up people at that time recognizing me from The Locker
Room [on beIN SPORTS] more than anything, because you don’t
really get a chance to see us during the games, they had somehow
been watching beIN SPORTS and were huge fans.
people that were on the mission with me, they’re just like,
they gave me this look as people would come up and go and ask
my autograph. And one of the places we went to is an orphanage.
We go there every single year and some of these kids are probably
eight to 18 or so. Every single one had a soccer jersey on. Some
of them would be wearing Olympia, some Motagua, but a lot of them
were Real Madrid or Barcelona.
love the sport, they love watching it and I’m sure they’re
still finding a way to watch it nowadays. I think it has more
to do even more than just LaLiga, it’s just the passion
for the sport. Maybe it’s going to change. Maybe it already
is now within Mbappe, and Neymar. Maybe they’re all wearing
PSG jerseys the next time I go down. But there’s no doubt
the impact that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and their rivalry
had, and LaLiga benefited and soccer benefited, but the love for
the sport is not going to change.