Monday, April 28, 2008

5 Questions With GolTV’s Phil Schoen

If you’ve watched a GolTV soccer broadcast then you’ve likely heard Phil Schoen (pronounced SHANE) calling a game alongside the always emotional Ray Hudson (see video). In addition, Schoen is one of the hosts of the network’s “American Soccer” program. In the sports world for many years, he’s been involved in American football, baseball, and basketball reporting and is a fixture of the South Florida scene. A lifelong soccer fan, Phil was kind enough to be a guest for my five questions:

1. What do you find is the biggest resistance to soccer in the United States? We must be missing something here since it is so popular in the rest of the world - what do you think is the barrier?

The historic answer goes back around the time of World War I when many immigrants stopped supporting the game and took up other sports, mainly baseball in an effort to appear less foreign and show their patriotism towards their new home.

Many new fans don't realize how big soccer was back then. It rivaled baseball in many cities in the northeast - outdrawing, sometimes doubling the attendance of neighboring baseball teams. People talk about Crew Stadium being the first soccer specific stadium, but Marks Field in Rhode Island held 15,000 back when it was built in 1922 - and Bethlehem Steel built its soccer stadium seven years before that.

Since then, I would say it's a bit of a comfort-zone problem. Many people - especially those who have made a living in sports journalism and broadcasting - feel threatened when it comes to learning a new sport. The same situation exists with the people that control the purse-strings of sports sponsorship.

I think we are about to experience a huge opportunity in the near future as many of these 'bumps in the road' decision makers are retiring and being replaced by a generation that has grown up, not only familiar with the sport, but in many cases in love with it.

Couple that with a better infrastructure in regards to stadiums and training facilities and a younger generation that can do more than 'play with heart' and the future looks bright.

2. One thing I know gets even the most savvy sports fans confused is the offsides rule - can you give me the quick synopsis of that rule?

One thing that gets mentioned by ex-non-soccer people is that it's like a moving blue line in hockey. Personally I think that makes it more confusing. (smile) It's very simple, just like the sport. The hard part is the speed that everything is happening might be too much for a human official to judge all the time. However, mistakes keep the human element in the sport.

Basically, you need to have two people from the other team between you and the goal line at the moment the ball is last played by one of your teammates. Normally, that's the goalkeeper and another defender. And that touch could be a pass or a shot.

The rule was instituted years ago to prevent players from cherry-picking and harassing the opposing goalkeeper. However, then the rule was to prevent people from being yards offside. Now, it seems to be as fine as millimeters.

The rule has been modified in the past. Before you needed daylight between you and the second defender. Now you only need to be no closer to the goal than that defender, basically in line. In addition, the only parts of your body that matter are the parts that can legally touch the ball, in other words hands and arms don't count.

FIFA has asked officials to give the benefit of the doubt to the offense. However, every linesman seems top have the Wisdom of Solomon and no doubt whatsoever considering the number of blown calls around the world every week.

Personally, I would like to see them 'reverse' the earlier rule and make it so that the offensive player is onside until there is daylight separating him from the defender. That way, it would tend to be only blatant offside calls that would be made.

3. Another thing that has confused some of us - the Champions League and Champions Cup in Europe. Are they the same thing? What is the difference?

It's a progression of the same tournament. Basically, it's the championship for club teams in Europe for the European Cup. Not to be confused with the EURO tournament for nations which gets underway this summer in Austria and Switzerland!

4. Which American MLS team is the one to watch this year? Other than the one big name player that nearly everyone has heard, who are the big name stars in the MLS today?

It will be interesting to follow Los Angeles as they will either start to shine like the star that they are made out to be, or implode because of the salary restrictions placed on them by having so many high priced players. Kinda like waiting near that dangerous intersection for the next wreck! (smile)

I think this is the year that some of the non/under-achievers make their move. Columbus and Salt Lake will do better and I think Colorado could make some noise as well if they can acquire or develop a true center forward to take advantage of their midfield strength.

As far as league favorites, my pre-season picks were Dallas and DC, and even though DC is slow out of the gates they have the talent to come back strong, as does Houston out west.

5. What is in store for your show "American Soccer"? What can we expect in the near future? Any exciting guests coming up?

Ay, yay, yay... Love to have Amy Winehouse stop by for a quick chat. (smile) Other than that... hmmm. Well, since we don't have a team down here in Miami (frown) we have to be a little more proactive and take what we can get when we can get it. We have some arrangements in Europe for an occasional feature and we do go out on the road about 4-5 times a year.

We were at the World Cup in Germany. We were planning on going to the Copa America until we found out the US was not really going to try to win it. South Africa is already on the drawing boards although that has a lot of steps to take before it's a done deal. We're going to try to make it a habit to go to the MLS Cup, and continue to attend the NSCAA convention, which is an amazing place to meet and greet with true soccer nuts.

Really, star power is nice but American Soccer is more of a show where you will get critical analysis of the sport in the United States. It's a show where we try not to talk down to the existing knowledgeable fans in an effort to hopefully woo some new viewers. I believe that if you truly give soccer a chance you can't help but fall in love with it, and that love and passion needs to have a place to vent - and that's us!


Lindsay said...

I always like to hear about soccer. My boyfriend and I toy with the idea of going to South Africa for the World Cup. I'd love to go. We'll have to see if it works out.

Apryl DeLancey said...

Yeah - I'd love to go for the World Cup...and then surf.

Monica 08 said...

Good questions and answers! I don't have GOL TV yet. I'd like to watch his TV show "American soccer," sounds interesting. Wonder if it'll make me a more dedicated MLS fan ;-)

Apryl, have you seen the show "American soccer?"

Apryl DeLancey said...

Thanks! He was very kind and I really enjoyed this one! I have seen American Soccer and I've watched Fox Football Phone-In and Sky Sports. I have some good channels for soccer coverage.