Alexi Lalas, Stu Holden are embracing intense World Cup pressure

As someone who has played at a World Cup and broadcast one, Alexi Lalas says the biggest difference between the two is what you wear to the game. Everything else is pretty much the same.

“There are obvious similarities in terms of preparation, both mentally and physically,” said Lalas, who now wears a suit and tie instead of shorts and a shirt with a number on it. “There’s an appreciation of possibility, there’s an appreciation of trial, there’s an understanding of responsibility and the potential for success, failure, praise, criticism, all these different things.”

Even the fear is the same, said Stu Holden, who, like Lalas, has witnessed a World Cup game on the field and behind a mic.

“Being there just before the 2018 World Cup Finals was probably the closest I’ve gotten to getting closer to being a professional athlete,” Holden said. “When I knew the red light came on, I had these butterflies, this good nervous energy of, ‘Man, that’s a big deal.’ ”

Lalas, who has fielded two US World Cup rosters, and Holden, who has been selected for one, have never played together but this month they will be working on their second World Cup as a broadcaster for Fox Sports in Qatar, part of a 25-year team of people , which consists of 11 former players who have played in 24 World Cups together.

The tournament, which begins its 28-day run on November 20, will be televised in Spanish on Telemundo.

“Former players channel views that other announcers can’t,” said David Neal, Fox Sports’ vice president of production and executive producer of the network’s World Cup coverage, which features Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, the top scorers in U.S. history. men, added. and Carli Lloyd, two-time World Player of the Year, to his team.

“They stood shoulder to shoulder with their teammates as the national anthems blared and the stadiums roared. The good guys channel those incredible emotions and remember those World Cup experiences. The big ones captivate audiences with fantastic storytelling.”

But all draw on what they learned as players to get through the month-long tournament.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Lalas, who will be working as a studio analyst on his fifth world championship. “Exercise yourself, take care of yourself, routine is your friend. Sleeping, exercising, making sure you’re constantly digesting all the news and stories, all these things are important.

Fox Sports broadcaster Stuart Holden poses before a friendly soccer match between the U.S. and Bolivia in Chester, Pa on May 28, 2018.

Stu Holden will work for Fox Sports in Qatar, part of a 25-strong team made up of 11 former players who have competed in 24 World Cups together.

(Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

Likewise the preparation.

“One of the things I learned at the last World Cup was that you do so much pre-tournament pre-tournament work and then you go into the tournament and all of that really helps your base,” Holden said. “But after maybe the first couple of games, it’s all about what’s happening now and what the last game was like, not what the team did three, four months ago.

“Once the game is on, it’s like a player. It’s reactive. It’s instinct. It’s about getting a feel for the game and the moments and seeing if you can be as good as the moments warrant.”

Managing fatigue and relying on teammates is also important. Four years ago in Russia, Holden and play-by-play partner John Strong spent the long, sleepless nights between games flying to distant cities. At one point, Strong complained of fatigue, and Holden fired back with a cliché he’d learned as a player.

“I said, ‘Tired is just a mental state. You’re not tired and we’re going to get through this,'” Holden said supportively to Strong. “The team aspect is a really underrated element of broadcasting.”

Lalas agreed. Just as there is only one ball on a soccer field, there is generally only one person speaking at a time during a soccer broadcast, and it can be difficult to know when to speak and when to pass the mic to a teammate.

Brazilian Romario, left, fights against U.S. defender Alexi Lalas during a World Cup match July 4, 1994 in Palo Alto.

Brazil’s Romario (left) fights against US defender Alexi Lalas during a 1994 World Cup match. “Former players channel points of view that other announcers can’t,” said Fox Sports chief executive David Neal.

(Thomas Kienzle/Associated Press)

“In professional sports, athletes, as well as people in the media and certainly on the broadcasters, are a bunch of selfish lunatics,” Lalas said. “Accepting that you’re part of the team and doing things that help the team, that’s the essence of a team, whether it’s a sports team or a team broadcasting a World Cup.

“For many who are going to play at a World Cup, this is a dream come true. From the point of view of the broadcaster and certainly from my point of view, this is also our World Cup.”

“For many who are going to play at a World Cup, this is a dream come true. From the point of view of the broadcaster and certainly from my point of view, this is also our World Cup.”

– Alexi Lalas, who will work as a studio analyst on his fifth World Championship

And it takes a team to get through this. Fox Sports will produce 128 hours of linear programming across all 64 games – 34 on Fox and 30 on Fox Sports 1 – and nearly 100 hours of studio programming. In addition, every game is streamed live on the Fox Sports App and is available for free on-demand replays on Tubi.

What isn’t being addressed, Neal said, are things happening outside the stadium, like Qatar’s controversial treatment of migrant workers, which many rights groups say borders on slavery.

“If it has an impact on what’s happening on the field, we will report on it and cover it in full,” Neal said at a news conference last month. “But if that’s not the case and the history of the tournament is beside the point, there are plenty of other facilities and outlets that will cover it. We firmly believe that spectators come to us to see what’s happening on the pitch.”

Fox followed the same playbook four years ago when it refused to criticize its World Cup hosts on issues of racism and sexism. But what really hurt the network’s ratings versus Russia was the time difference, as games start in the Pacific time zone in the morning, and the failure of the United States to qualify for the tournament. As a result, Fox and Telemundo averaged just 4.6 million viewers per game, down more than 43% on ESPN and Univision’s 2014 viewership.

The US team is back this year, but so is the morning kickoffs, and the impact they will have on Fox audiences remains to be seen. After all, there are no scoreboards for broadcasts, so after the game the spectators decide whether they win or lose, and the former players had to adjust to that too.

“And we don’t get a trophy at the end,” Holden said. Alexi Lalas, Stu Holden are embracing intense World Cup pressure

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