Behind The Scenes

Inside ESPN’s coverage of World Cup qualifying match US vs. Guatemala

ESPN lead soccer producer Chris Alexopoulos (left) and director Bob Frattaroli (right) in the production truck ahead of tonight’s USA-Guatemala 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying match in Kansas City. (Credit: ESPN)

The U.S. Men’s National Team will face Guatemala tonight (ESPN2 and WatchESPN at 7:15 p.m. ET) at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Mo., needing at least a tie to assure a berth in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

For the U.S., the only CONCACAF team to qualify for the last six FIFA World Cups, the experience of being in a must-win or tie World Cup qualifying situation is rare.

Front Row caught up with lead producer Chris Alexopoulos, a veteran of the last four ESPN FIFA World Cup events, to discuss tonight’s production plans.

In a way, USA-Guatemala is arguably the most important home match for the U.S. Men’s National Team since Oct. 7, 2001, vs. Jamaica, when USA needed a home win to assure qualification for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. How do you approach a match like this?
“Our soccer production team takes a lot of pride in continuing the high standard of coverage that was set at the World Cup in 2010. Tonight’s telecast is a critical qualifier. The show will replicate the large scale of United States telecasts we’ve recently done in matches vs. Argentina, Brazil, Spain and Mexico.

“We’ve been planning for this telecast for months, before we even knew it would be this meaningful. We’ve added cameras to not only give us unique looks at live camera cuts, iso’s [isolations] and replays in-game, but to give a better feel for the pregame pageantry of walkouts and national anthems. We expect a raucous crowd in Kansas City. Our goal is to make sure we bring that passion to the screen.”

On air, what should fans expect to see?
“A 45-minute pregame show before kickoff to properly set the stage for the match. We’ll discuss whether the [U.S. coach] Jurgen Klinsmann era is working out and feature lots of highlights from a busy day of World Cup qualifying around the world. We’ll also air a profile of U.S. forward Herculez Gomez, reported by Julie Foudy, who shot interviews in Mexico last week. Post-game, we’ll have an extensive show on ESPN3 with in-depth analysis and interviews.”

What are some of the benefits of having Taylor Twellman, Alexi Lalas, and Kasey Keller — three former US Men’s National Team players — on the telecast?
“Analysts Taylor, Alexi and Kasey all played for the US National Team, and have played in these qualifiers. Their perspective on the unique difficulties of these games is crucial to explaining to viewers why lower-ranked countries in the CONCACAF region are not automatic wins.”

What non-ESPN entities are crucial to your role overseeing such a soccer event production?
“As a producer, US Soccer is an important partner. In the weeks leading up to the game, we set up interviews, work out access to players and coaches, and coordinate everything from kickoff time, to in-stadium camera positions.

“We’re also working with one of the newest soccer-specific stadiums in the country at Kansas City’s Livestrong Park. Today’s telecast will be, by far, the largest ever in that stadium. As such, we’ve worked with stadium personnel for weeks to work out our studio set location so we can be as close to the field as possible.”

Editor’s note: Award-winning studio anchor Bob Ley will host pre-game, halftime and post-game segments with analysts Keller and Lalas. Play-by-play commentator Ian Darke, analyst Twellman and sideline reporter Monica Gonzalez will call the match)

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