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Straight Hustle: How Tyler Terens worked his way to the Chicago Fire broadcast booth

A joke launched his career, a “baptism by fire” prepared him for stardom, and a U.S. soccer legend opened the door to the Fire’s broadcast booth, where he’s poised to become the “American Arlo White”

Chicago Fire play-by-play man Tyler Terens

Tyler Terens was ready to go for the Chicago Fire’s March 7 visit to Orlando.

He had his match boards prepared. He was practicing his opens in the shower. And then, the entire sports world froze.

“It’s been bizarre to move to a new city, and to move on to what basically is my dream job, and sort of have it on hold,” Terens told Hot Time in Old Town. “We’re not playing football right now, but thankfully my loved ones are healthy, and I just couldn’t ask for a better club to be a part of right now.”

Terens, who is only 26 years old, landed the job as the Fire’s play-by-play man in February. Luckily, he was able to call one match on WGN and ESPN+—the Fire’s 1-1 draw in New England—before the COVID-19 shutdown began.

After that, Terens had the strange task of moving from Hollywood, Florida to his uncle’s home in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood during a global pandemic. He’s since found his own apartment in Old Town, where, like the rest of us, he’s at home. Waiting.

“To be completely honest it’s been a lot smoother than I ever could have expected,” Terens said. “Everybody at the Fire has been excellent about checking in on me and making sure that I’m settled in.”

Working overtime as a rookie broadcaster

Terens may only be 26, but in his short career the Scotch Plains, New Jersey native has worked a lot of soccer matches. In fact, it was common for Terens to call several matches a week, and many times, even two matches in one night.

“I’d call a game in Charlotte at seven o’clock on Saturday, and then I’d be in Phoenix at 10 o’clock,” Terens said.

How? He worked for a company called VISTA Worldlink. Based outside Miami, the company provides basic, no-frills broadcasts for everything from Concacaf Champions League, to Gold Cup, to U.S. Open Cup, to Concacaf Nations League matches. He was even the regular play-by-play man for USL side Phoenix Rising, and he called nearly all of it off monitors from a studio in Florida.

“It almost became second nature,” Terens said. “But, you’re so reliant upon the camera operators that, if for some reason the Camera One operator falls asleep at the wheel, I can’t see the ball. I can’t tell the viewer what’s happening, because I’m seeing the same thing that they’re seeing. Or, if the camera angle was particularly low at a specific stadium, then I would have a difficult time seeing a play develop, and sometimes when the ball is played across the penalty area I don’t know if there’s a runner at the back post. So, I’m waiting on pins and needles just like the viewer.”

While it might not be ideal for many broadcasters, for Terens, it was the perfect setup. It allowed him to call hundreds of matches in his short career—155 matches in 2019 alone—giving him the experience he needed to develop his craft.

“I needed the maximum amount of reps, and I needed to be overworked, and I needed to find what it sounded like for Tyler Terens to call a game,” he said. “Calling 150 games a year will do that. It’s baptism by fire.”

It also gave Terens the opportunity to work with a guy who played a huge role in helping him land the job with the Fire, Tony Meola.

When Fire executives were piecing together their new broadcast team, they knew they had Meola set to do color commentary, and the legendary Arlo White lined up for play-by-play work in the summer. But who would call the bulk of the matches when White was in England on Premier League duty? It was Meola who made the case for Terens.

“Tony called me on a Monday,” Terens recalled. “I was out at some food truck gathering in Hollywood, Florida before this all went down. I get a missed call from Tony, and he said ‘Call me back. Emergency.’ I was like, ‘Here we go.’ And so I called him back. He said Chicago is going to call you as soon as we hang up the phone. This might be the break that you were looking for.”

Sure enough, they called. Terens went in for an interview, and blew away the Fire executives. That’s when Terens broke the news to his soccer-loving uncle in Chicago, who had introduced him to Fire games as kid.

“I said, ‘Listen, I don’t want to get your hopes up. I certainly don’t want to get mine up. But, I just had an interview with the Chicago Fire and I think it was somewhat well, so I might be moving here.’ He lost his mind. He was so happy.”

The joke that launched his career

As Terens tells the story, if he hadn’t gotten injured while playing soccer at Hobart College in Geneva, New York, he probably wouldn’t have become a broadcaster. He had no intention of becoming a play-by-play man, until his head coach, Shawn Griffin, put Terens and another teammate on video duty for an away match at SUNY Cortland.

“Our coach’s instructions were, just shut up and record the game,” he said. “I still, to this day, cannot understand what possessed me to do this, other than being a complete and utter goofball.

“We literally took empty water bottles, turned the cameras on ourselves for a pre-game show, a halftime show, and a post-game show, the whole thing—and we called all 90 minutes of our own team playing. He put on an English accent that sounded Australian half the time, and I did this unbelievably over-exaggerated, almost mocking play-by-play.”

The two didn’t want to own up to Griffin about what they had done, so they told their assistant coach, Dale Jordan, who decided the entire team would watch the “broadcast” on the bus ride home.

“The guys were in tears laughing,” Terens said. “When we got back to campus, my coach literally grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, because he knew I was the ringleader on this, I thought he was gonna ream me out. And then he goes, ‘You may be on to something here. I think that you might be a really good soccer commentator.’ I was like, ‘Shut the hell up! This is a comedy sketch. There’s no way you could have possibly picked that up.’”

After that, Terens called every game he could. He announced campus sports, and then post-graduation, he worked as a play-by-play guy for minor league baseball, college soccer, and women’s college basketball in Vermont, all before landing in Florida at VISTA Worldlink.

Along the way, Terens visited that old assistant coach at Hobart, Jordan, who had moved on to a head coaching job at the Stevens Institute of Technology. The two were watching Premier League Mornings on NBCSN, and admiring a certain superstar play-by-play announcer, when Jordan threw down a challenge.

“He’s like, “You need to be the American version of Arlo White. And, I said ‘That’s all I want to be.’ If I could be anywhere close to that, that is the goal.”

After the Fire put out the press release announcing the 2020 broadcast team, Terens got a text that left him stunned. It was from Arlo White.

“I was just like, ‘What is this? It was just so unbelievable, and he’s such a great guy and incredible broadcaster,” Terens recalled.

Obviously, the coronavirus shutdown has thrown a wrench into everything. But, if things work out at least somewhat as planned, Terens will get the chance to not only call more MLS matches with Meola, he’ll also get to learn by working with one of the best voices in the business, in White.

Not bad for a 26 year old who started his career as a joke.

“It’s just the dream come true,” Terens said.