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Brian Dunseth Previews Revs Matchup Against Columbus Crew
The Blazing Musket chatted with Dunseth about MLS Season Pass, the matchup against the Crew, and Bruce Arena impressions
The New England Revolution will be taking on the Columbus Crew this weekend and fans will get the pleasure of having Brian Dunseth and Max Bretos on the call.
The Blazing Musket got the opportunity to chat with Dunseth ahead of the matchup about a variety of topics including Saturday’s matchup in Ohio. You can catch Bretos and Dunseth’s call on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.
Some answers have been edited for brevity. You can also listen to my conversation with Dunseth on the latest episode of Revolution Recap.
TBM: What has it been like working with Apple for MLS Season Pass?
Dunseth: First off, I’m super honored to be a part of this initial group. I think there was so many variables and unknowns heading into the season because we just kind of all knew that it was coming to the end of the original contract and that everybody’s individual team responsibilities were going to change drastically with the announcement last June that Apple was coming in and going to be in charge with MLS of broadcasting all these games. So I’ll speak kind of broad stroke, for all of us trying to figure out if we were involved, could we be involved, and ultimately what was it going to look like from that point on. Super, super, super honored and happy to be a part of it since it’s pretty much the only thing I’ve ever known since 1997, joining the Revs which I was just talking about with Alexi Lalas on our Sirius show earlier today.
TBM: Have you enjoyed getting to see a little bit more of the league compared to just focusing primarily on Real Salt Lake?
Dunseth: I think one of the unique things about my broadcasting career is I’ve been really fortunate to be with Fox Soccer and FS1, to be with ABC Sports, to be with ESPN throughout different stages of my broadcast career. So being able to call quote-unquote national games and not just kind of local Real Salt Lake coverage afforded me the opportunity to be really well prepared with how to handle national and broadcasts that we have at the forefront right now. For those that don’t know, being paired up with Max Bretos is even better because Max actually did my very first national broadcast at Fox Soccer. We did a David Beckham LA Galaxy on the road versus Hong Kong 11 and it was like a 3 A.M. kickoff from the studios in Santa Monica right below UCLA. So to be able to call games with my guy Max, I couldn’t be a more lucky individual on this side of things.
TBM: Overall what has been your impression of the Revs and did you expect them to have such a good start to the season?
Dunseth: Well, I got to call the LAFC game a couple of weeks ago so I don’t know if Bruce [Arena] is going to be too happy that I’m calling the game in Columbus this weekend considering how well everything’s started. Obviously, the result in LA was not what they were looking for at the time. I think anyone that predicted this start of the season for New England would probably be lying right? I know we do all the preseason predictions and we talk about what it would look like and what it would feel like and what they think you’re going to get out of them. But I probably would have said the same thing here before with missing out on the playoffs after breaking the league points total in 2021. I think what we’re seeing this year is you have a really smart and savvy business deal to acquire Bobby Wood, who when he was healthy was I think a really serviceable goalscorer for Real Salt Lake. I saw him here week in and week out but unfortunately he just couldn’t stay healthy. You probably throw a [Dylan] Borrero into the mix and all of a sudden the pickups of [Dave] Romney and [Latif] Blessing, the spine of the team is incredibly solid. There’s no weakness in this team and I know it’s Montreal and Montreal is not playing well but however you describe it and I know Bruce hates the title of tactics…
Dunseth doing a Bruce Arena impression: You knuckleheads.
Dunseth Continued: But [Djordje] Petrovic in goal, back four, Romney, left-footed dominant center back affords even more time for time and space for DeJuan Jones and Henry Kessler. The addition of Latif Blessing I think undercover is one of the best moves of the offseason because I’ve always rated him incredibly high and I think Bob Bradley did a really good job converting him into more of a central midfield role when he was primarily used as winger for Sporting Kansas City and Peter Vermes. And then just having a Carles Gil and a Gustavo Bou back in the mix and Borrero again showing, I hate comparing players, but there’s so many different characteristics that are similar to Tajon [Buchanan] from a couple of years back so it’s great to see them starting out so well and I think games like this in Columbus who have had an interesting kind of turnover in the aftermath of Caleb Porter, creates a great opportunity for New England to continue their momentum and for everyone to try to stay as close as possible to what FC Cincinnati has done so far this year.
TBM: When it comes to New England facing off against Columbus a lot of the focus will go to the battle between Carles Gil and Lucas Zelarayan. Can you compare and contrast their playing styles and what really stands out about those two players?
Dunseth: Similar and yet different right? I think both players have the freedom to go find the game. But let’s start with their intelligence, the way they kind of sniff out spaces, how to get away from defensive midfielders that are really focused on minimizing their effects and because they are so technically gifted, they are given the license and the creativity to go find that space. Whether you are talking about right foot or left foot, whether you talk about inside the foot, whether you talk about weight of the pass, curving the ball, undercutting the ball, all these things. There’s just a certain core group of players that you can talk about week in and week out will have such a huge positive effect for their team and I think these two players are shining examples. Let’s use Minnesota United without [Emanuel] Reynoso. Another perfect example, very similar to these two that we are talking about. When he’s not in Minnesota, his team, Adrian Heath, and Minnesota United are a completely different team than they are with him in the team. When Carles Gil tore his Achilles however long it was now, you saw them playing differently because they had to play differently and that’s just the cause and effect of being able to go out in the international transfer market, having ownership that is willing to be committed to spend because they have that trust in the front office and the coaching staff that they will identify the correct player and credit to both coaching staffs because as we’ve seen in New England over the years and I can go all the way back to 1997. You can name a bunch of number 10’s and you can name a bunch of creative players but were they always the right fit? Did they have the right personality for the locker room? Do they have leadership attributes? Were they good people? I think all of the boxes are checked with Carles and Lucas Zelarayan.
TBM: What stands out about Columbus’ play as well as Wilfried Nancy’s coaching style and his effect on this Columbus team?
Dunseth: If you go back — and I highly suggest anyone reading or listening — go check out his pathway. Leaving France, coming to Montreal, starting with the kids, working his way up to being Thierry Henry’s assistant, and then having enough, I call it sweat equity, work within the club to get his opportunity to be the head coach. And in the beginning people were like oh, where’s his pedigree? Where’s his coaching acumen? How can you say this guy who’s been a three, four, or five-year assistant coach, why is he the right guy? Well we saw it and we saw a lot of guys buy in and what I would say about his time in Montreal is he made players better. He coached players up and I think that’s what you are seeing right now. I mean no Cucho [Hernandez]. I know Christian Ramirez is kind of a proven commodity in MLS circles with his time in Minnesota and LA, and Houston and coming back from Aberdeen. But remember Alexander Matan was basically like one week away from Caleb Porter trying to get rid of him as quickly as possible and he looks like he’s an unstoppable force right now. I think Darlington Nagbe has made Aiden Morris that much better. I’m not sure who had Will Sands on the bingo card for a starter in a hybrid of a three or four or five-man backline on that left-hand side. He’s been really good and with no Eloy Room between the posts who’s been there for the better part of three years, all of a sudden you are looking at a couple of new faces and a couple of big opportunities with younger players coming through the academy setup getting chances with this team. So I would say that there’s a clear identity, great facilities, and ownership and [Tim] Bezbatchenko that believe that Wilfried Nancy’s the right guy. Wilfried Nancy in a short amount of time, getting his philosophical and tactical ideas out there in a way that’s digestible mentally for this group of players and they have a lot of self-belief. Outside of I think that loss in Philadelphia where the second half kind of got away from them, I’m not sure there’s really been a game where you could say that they haven’t competed and competed well enough to win.
TBM: What’s one key for the Revs if they want to get three points on Saturday?
Dunseth: I would say the midfield battle to be quite honest with you and I’d be intrigued to see if Wilfried Nancy adjusts his tactical setup for New England considering with Brandon Bye, DeJuan Jones and Borrero, Gustavo Bou so much up and down availability and overlapping ability and underlapping as we saw with Borrero’s goal where he pinches in kind of centrally with Gil kind of pulling aside even more left. I’m interested to see what the balance and the shape looks like from the opening whistle because I think what we are recognizing more and more and people aren’t talking about, you are seeing multiple shape shifts during a game where and again I know Bruce loves talking about it or hates talking about it but it’s our easiest way to describe it as broadcasters or an analyst is what the formation looks like. How do you attack space? How do you protect space? How do you press when you don’t have the ball and can you get that immediate press to win the ball back to be that much further up the field? And can you be smart with really unnecessary fouls in or around the penalty area? But I think if we talked about just the eyeball test that the biggest one for me is going to be who can not just challenge for the first ball but win the second ball in the midfield because I think that’s a lot of regeneration of simple possession that then builds momentum in a team’s favor.
TBM: Something else that Bruce loves/hates to talk about how this team has gotten off to a good start. When it comes to this team having such a good start, what do you think the ceiling is? Do you think that they can contend for an MLS Cup?
Dunseth: I do. I truthfully do believe that. I also think that we do a thing where we just talk about it and I can remember doing this exact same game for ESPN two years ago out in Columbus and New England was flying high and I looked at Bruce and I was like, it’s a typical Bruce reaction. I said what are you guys doing well and he said we’re scoring more goals than our opponents and he just kind of smirks and giggles. What are you doing well defensively? We’re letting in less goals than our opponent silly. You know it’s such a simple thing but that’s what it really boils down to. I know Bruce doesn’t like to get too high because it’s such a long season and I can remember with the LA Galaxy when he was the manager and the team would feel like it was just sputtering right around the playoff mark and then all of a sudden, July, August kicks in and they are flying near the top of the table and amping them up towards the playoffs. So there’s a couple of different seasons at play here and getting into the international transfer window, getting into the Leagues Cup break and then getting into that run into the playoffs I think are three very different phases of the season but I look at the depth of this team and I’m really intrigued to see what the timeline looks like for Jozy Altidore this year and how much of an impact he can have. I know that sounds crazy but I still think there’s a role for him to play in this team. Then ultimately, how do some of the younger players continue to evolve into this group? What is [Noel] Buck’s role? What is [Justin] Rennicks role? the list goes on and on with the way that the academy is developing really high-potential, high-bar young players coming through the ranks. So I know Bruce doesn’t like to talk about it but I don’t see any reason why they can’t compete in the Eastern Conference, they can’t compete to have home-field advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. I know the naysayers will say well hold on a second why can they play this well, to start the way this season and then last year have the season that was such the outlier compared to the year before.
TBM: A lot of the talk up here in New England is regarding Giacomo Vrioni. As a former player how can you build confidence, get out of those ruts and hopefully for him, a DP player, start to really make an impact?
Dunseth: have Petrovic kick the ball to him every time through like six guys right? I’ve watched him live just once. I watched him last year and obviously I have seen the games this year. For a player that has such a club pedigree that he does. I don’t care what anybody says, you got to be a pretty damn good player to come through Juve, same for any of those kids that come through Barcelona B or La Masia or Real Madrid B whatever you call it. You got to be a pretty damn good player but also I think it has to with a lot of confidence. He’s a different body type and he’s a different type of player than the other players that are competing for the similar spot in New England. At the end of the day, there’s times for me that he did not look the part, it looked like it was going to be one of those DP’s that didn’t settle. There’s other times like we saw against Montreal, you are like hold on a second that’s it. Like whatever that is, how does he bottle that up? So confidence, proving to Bruce and the coaching staff week in and week out. This isn’t like a 90 minutes between the white lines on Saturdays. This is like every single session. How do you compete? What’s your mentality? What’s your body language? What are your finishing sessions look like afterwards? Are you staying after? Are you working? Are you the first guy off the field and trying to get a massage? All of these thinks are kind of the mental aspect outside of the games on Saturday that he’s being judged on that we as analysts or media members or fans aren’t seeing. So that’s his biggest challenge right now is to perform on the weekends. Goals and assists absolutely matter, especially when you have a DP tag. That’s a heavy thing to weigh on players but then doing all the little things better than everyone else behind the scenes, something that we are usually not aware of.
TBM: Do you plan on bringing out the Bruce impression during the call and who has the best Bruce impression?
Dunseth: Tony Meola’s got a great Bruce. John Harkes probably has one of the best Bruce’s I’ve ever heard. You know, it was Jillian Sakovitz and Susanna Collins on The Call Up either last year or the year before, they asked me to do my Bruce impression, I did it and they sunk me and they played it for Bruce the next week and Bruce was like that doesn’t sound like me and they are sending me messages like oh we just played it for Bruce and I was like why did you play it for Bruce? I say it out of love. I have the utmost respect for Bruce. I think he’s an incredible human being. I still don’t think he gets enough credit for what he’s done for the game in the United States, that he’s done for the college game at UVA. That was my first introduction to him. Then watching the incredible amount of success with D.C. United and you think about his coaching umbrella, you think about the player umbrella that have been a part of teams that he’s been a part of, and the success that he’s had. I know a lot of people just point out what happened in 2017 down in Trinidad and Tobago and I always think that’s a really unfair asterisk mark that’s attached to him but it is reality. My moments in the U.S. National Team with Bruce the head coach are some of my favorite moments in my memory just because his candor, his jokes, his timing, his delivery are all incredibly special and the environments that he always created as manager were always incredible to be a part of and I was nothing more than a camp guy like I never was able to break through at the time of the Eddie Pope’s and the Carlos Llamosa’s and the Tony Sanneh’s, Gregg Berhalter’s transitioning to the Carlos Bocanegra’s, Oguchi Onyewu’s like those type of players. I was kind of stuck in that mix where I was good enough to get a call up and never good enough to break in. But when the whistle blew you knew exactly where you stood with Bruce and the accountability of performance was always there and the competition level. He created an environment that everybody wanted to perform. So love my time with Bruce. I do my impression with the utmost respect meant and because it is Bretos, there’s probably a way I can get a quick Bruce in there at some point. I think I did at LAFC.
TBM: How long do you think he can continue coaching whether it be in MLS or in general?
Dunseth: Well I mean look at Roy Hodgson right? Roy Hodgson just came back for like the 37th time after a few years it feels like. When I was doing my research I was doing all my notes and I always put the age of the managers and the age of the players on my notes just as a reference point and I put 71 and I was like Bruce isn’t 71. I had to look at it twice like no way. Maybe 61 not 71 but we are all gleefully forgetting how much of an impact that he’s had in the game. I mean in my mind I’m still 23 years old and I’m not 46. You know 23 years ago I was at the Olympics in the summer. It just shows you the impact that he’s had and the longevity and as long as he’s still happy doing it, I don’t think that he’s losing his touch as we’ve seen from the start of this season.