“Here’s Plata…what skill! Up ahead…Saborio behind the defense. Sabo, a shot! IT’S A GOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!!!! SABORIO!!!!!”
“A shot…BIIIIG SAVE RIMANDOOOOO!”
These are words that have become synonymous with Real Salt Lake’s television broadcast and are as endeared to its fans as fry sauce or winter skiing, particularly so this season as the team has set a franchise record for goals scored in a season and Rimando has continued his fantastic play.
For play-by-play caller Bill Riley, it’s just another day in the office. From studying broadcast journalism at the University of Kansas to Salt Lake City, radio and television broadcasts have been his lifeblood. For his color analyst partner Brian Dunseth, soccer is “the only thing I’ve ever known.” As a professional player at both the MLS club and national team levels, Dunseth knew just days after being cut from the LA Galaxy that color commentary was where he wanted to be and what he wanted to be doing to keep him in the game. For the better part of seven seasons, the two have created a uniquely strong broadcast chemistry that only gets better with each game. “When you know the person on a personal level, it makes it so much easier,” said Dunseth. “It’s all about repetitions, repetitions are the best.” The duo has been calling games together since 2007.
A brisk breeze funnels through the west corridor at Rio Tinto Stadium as the setting sun bakes the 4th-floor entrance to TV 2. Color analyst Brian Dunseth arrives, dressed in a button-down shirt and blazer, jeans, and casual Adidas shoes, drops his bag, and sits down to begin making his pregame notes. He scribbles players’ names on one side of a manila folder torn in two, one side for each team. From a television camera perspective a fan sees the game left-to-right, but for the former centerback, “I see the game up and down, with the keeper behind me and the play in front of me.” He jots Nick Rimando’s name at the bottom of the page and works his way up, shaping the players into the telltale midfield diamond that head coach Jason Kreis has become so widely known for. Dunseth, or “Dunny,” as he is so often referred to, scribbles a few quick numbers, a few quick stats, then hops on his phone to open up his Twitter account. In walks play-by-play caller Bill Riley, suit jacket slung over his shoulder and in a white shirt and tie. “What’s up, man?” he asks Dunseth.
Riley tapes down his own lineup chart, which unlike Dunseth’s reads left to right and is computer typewritten. Under each name are facts and tidbits about anything from the player’s style, where they attended college and what national team duties they may have had. “I do all my own research, and today with the internet it makes it so much easier,” Riley said. Whether it be reading the game notes put out by the teams, having players on his ESPN 700 radio show, or even calling up the play-by-play caller from the opposing team to share notes, Riley is working all week to be ready for the game. “We both kind of do our own homework, but we’ll talk about the game on the plane, or at lunch the day of,” Riley notes.
Upon arriving in the booth, the two sit down and for a few minutes discuss the day’s match, and how they want to approach their call. Riley puts his headset on, and with a push of the Talkback button is connected to seasoned producer/director Ken Neal in the production truck onsite. After a few more minutes of note sharing, Riley and Dunseth record video clips that will later be shown in the television broadcast. Sometimes taking two or three takes, the two highlight results from previous matches, keys to the upcoming game and ad spots from sponsors.
After a brief moment of business, the mood lightens, and Riley and Dunseth joke with each other, pop a few Starbursts, and chat with the other production staff in the booth. Headsets go back on and the television broadcast begins to play on the monitors in front of them. “Greetings, and welcome to Rio Tinto Stadium,” Riley announces to the viewers at home.
The game gets underway, and the viewers at home listen to the broadcast and discuss things with their friends watching with them. For Riley and Dunseth, it’s no different. As they stand in their booth high above the pitch, Riley calls out the action as it unfolds. “Plata down the left side, he’s got space. Sends the cross in…” Or “Borchers flies up and heads it out wide, and Beltran clears it.” While the play is in more tense situations, usually at either far end of the field, the “attacking third” or “defensive third” as they are commonly referred to, Riley, whose main focus is to describe the action play-by-play, takes the lead. Then Dunseth, as color analyst and a former player himself, will provide an insight or a play breakdown as the ball moves toward the center of the pitch or into a less dangerous spot. “Bill and I will just have a conversation with each other sometimes,” Dunseth said. Using hand gestures and facial expressions as if he were face-to-face with his audience he describes the breakdown of the play with great detail. Trey Fitzgerald, director of communications for Real Salt Lake, says Dunseth brings to the table what not a lot of other analysts do. He has the ability to not only identify problems that he’s seeing on the field with individual players or the team as a whole, but also that “he’s able to educate the fans by talking about how you fix that problem,” Fitzgerald said. While Dunseth has at times received criticism for talking too much during a broadcast, Fitzgerald feels that he and Riley are forced to walk a fine line in helping fans grasp the concepts of the growing sport in America, while not talking down to those that do understand the game. “I think they do that very well,” Fitzgerald said.
As a former Real Salt Lake player himself, Dunseth labels himself as a fan of the team. The same can be said of Riley, who identifies himself as a local guy who supports the local teams. Dunseth feels this is not a problem or a hindrance to their game calling. “We see the game the same way, we’re in an incredible agreement at calling the game down the middle,” Dunseth said. He feels it is a “gigantic disservice” to fans watching to call the game as a “homer.”
“In to the box…a shot by Stephenson. JUST WIDE!!!!! OHHHHHH the home team nearly pulled one back!” Riley yells into his microphone. Dunseth reaches down to the Talkback button, and while pressing it talks to the director in the production truck, asking for a replay to be called up. “Watch as he touches with the inside of the left, and gets the defender caught on the back of his heels a bit to create just enough time and space for a quick touch with the right to create the shot. The ‘keeper was very, very lucky that shot went wide. Excellent footwork by Gil to set up Stephenson.”
Dunseth picks up his iPhone and opens Twitter. Glancing back and forth from the field to the phone and back again. A Retweet here, and a quick reply there, Dunseth engages with viewers at home and Retweets the official Real Salt Lake account, primarily managed by Fitzgerald. He quickly types a response to a followers’ question. “It’s cool because I thought to myself one night ‘How cool would it be for me if I’m watching a game and I can tweet to the guy who’s talking?’” Dunseth said. He attributes his ability to live-Tweeting a match while broadcasting to being able compartmentalize everything he’s doing, particularly in his personal life where he manages a clothing line, a soccer-based lifestyle website, and raising two young boys.
“Javi at the spot. Sets up, stutters…AND WE’RE LEVEL AT 2!!!! Javier Morales, fakes the ‘keeper with a stutter and buries the penalty in the back of net in the 85th minute!”
The game begins to wind down, and Riley is handed his final advertisement script of the night on a small piece of paper. When he finds a break in the action he reads “This portion of the match is brought to you by Xango, powering the passion of Real Salt Lake,” as he hands the paper back to the production staff on the opposite side of Dunseth and continues to call the game. Win or lose, the two always seem to be having a good time with what they do. Just before the post-game interviews are broadcast, Riley cracks a short joke, and Dunseth sticks his microphone in Riley’s face.
“Good night from Rio Tinto, and so long.”
Since graduating college, Riley has always worked in radio or television. In addition to play-by-play he has also done reporting, anchoring, and hosted radio shows as well. While studying broadcast journalism at the University of Kansas, Riley managed the student radio station, and immediately after school finished began sending out tapes to stations and took the first job he could in Hastings, Nebraska. With over 20 years in the business, Riley has become a staple in local sports radio. He has been the voice on either radio or television of Real Salt Lake since its inception in 2005, and is also currently the radio voice of the University of Utah football and men’s basketball teams. His partner Dunseth has had his fair share of television time as well. “I was always the guy who was never afraid to put his face in front of the media when things were going wrong, I never backed out of an interview,” Dunseth said. Shortly after being cut by the LA Galaxy and moving back to Salt Lake, where his then fiancé was from, he approached Fitzgerald about providing commentary. “[Fitzgerald] told me he couldn’t pay me anything, but I didn’t care. It kept me in the game. My playing career was over,” Dunseth said. It was May of 2006 and things grew from there. He provided commentary the rest of that 2006 season, and in 2007 began doing radio broadcasts with Riley. In 2010, Real Salt Lake began their simulcast and Riley and Dunseth’s calls were broadcast on both the radio and the television production as well.
Dunseth freelances for not only Real Salt Lake, but also does broadcasts for FC Dallas and has working agreements with Major League Soccer, Fox Sports, the PAC-12 Conference, and NBC Sports Network. Dunseth also travels the country and does some media training for MLS. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, when both Dunseth and Riley are both available, they have called games together. Sometimes a University of Utah football game will conflict with the Real Salt Lake schedule. In those situations Riley calls for the university, and Fitzgerald will hire another play-by-play caller in to work with Dunseth. One such occasion saw Riley called away for the Utah vs. BYU football game, and Real Salt Lake brought in the legendary JP Dellacamera, who has called soccer for the better part of 30 years.
What makes Dunseth’s color commentary different than a lot of analysts is not just his playing experience, but he attributes it to his early experience in radio. The nature of radio is such that the play-by-play caller has to be quite descriptive in his/her call because the listener can’t see what is happening and is therefore limited to whatever picture is pained in their minds by the caller. The job carries a significant learning curve, according to Dunseth. But it’s an experience he feels is invaluable to being an analyst on television. “[Calling on radio] forces you to really pay attention to the play and forces you to see everything in real-time, and not use the replay as a crutch,” Dunseth said.
For 4 seasons now, Real Salt Lake fans have been fortunate enough to have a commentary team who understands one another, feeds off one another, and provides a viewing and listening experience fans of every level of understanding can enjoy. Goals from Saborio, big saves from Rimando, Retweets, snapdown headers, and first-time touches, Real Salt Lake fans have many ways to enjoy their growing local soccer.
Story and photos by Michael Mangum