Six minutes after halftime of Saturday’s 2-0 Chicago Fire loss to the Philadelphia Union at Soldier Field, Union forward Cory Burke wins a ball off a throw-in deep inside the Fire’s 18-yard-box. He knocks the ball wide to teammate Jamiro Monteiro, who sends a cross right back to Burke for a pretty, left-footed finish.
The Fire are burned for a goal. The club’s play-by-play announcer, Tyler Terens, makes the call on WGN-TV.
“Monteiro, back for Burke, tries to hit it, and he hits it cleanly! Cory Burke, seemingly a Fire killer! Scored against them in 2020, gets one in 2021, and opens the scoring here at Soldier Field!”
Instantly, color commentator Tony Meola starts breaking down the replay, trying to figure out what went wrong for Chicago.
“And it was Pineda who doesn’t follow Burke into the box. No communication.”
That call may have sounded off the cuff—and to some extent, it was—but really, it couldn’t have happened without all of the work that went in to the broadcast before the match began. The Fire gave Hot Time in Old Town an inside look at all the little things that make the big broadcasts possible.
“That is a common misconception that broadcasters just sort of roll out of bed and start talking about the game, but no, there’s a lot of hours of prep that goes into it,” Terens says.
It’s Wednesday. There are still three days until the broadcast, but Terens is already in full swing. He prep work began immediately after the Fire’s loss to the Red Bulls, when he watched the Union-NYCFC match—“from my couch, beer in hand, like any fan.”
By Tuesday, he’s sitting down to watch Philly’s Concacaf Champions League match against Atlanta United, and today he’s already building the “match boards” he’ll use as his primary notes during Saturday’s game.
Terens uses peel-and-stick address labels to build small clusters of key notes on each player—age, hometown, recent stats, and talking points go on each one. He keeps every team on file on his laptop, and refreshes them often.
Since the Fire had already faced the Union in preseason, Terens doesn’t need to build a whole new sheet of labels—he just updates each one with recent information. He learned this sticker system from a legendary announcer he’ll get to work with in a few weeks.
“I actually stole, at least at it’s very basic level, my match board prep from Arlo (White),” Terens explains. “I used to hand write everything, and I had one base template that I photocopied. Now I’ve moved to digital, and I use the same system that he does, which is Avery labels.”
Thursday and Friday
We’re now a couple days out, and it’s time to dig deep. “Thursday and Friday, that’s when I start to geek out. Soccerway.com is where I live,” Terens says. He looks for stories and connections between the teams. For instance, he finds that Fire winger Przemyslaw Frankowski and Union forward Kacper Przybylko spent time in Polish Youth National Team camp together, a fact he readies for the broadcast. Some of these nuggets never make air—but he likes to have them ready, just in case.
For a Saturday match, Meola typically arrives in Chicago on Friday, and Terens likes to meet him at a restaurant near his downtown hotel to talk about the following day’s game over dinner.
The two actually go way back—having called hundreds of matches together for a production company called VISTA Worldlink. It was Meola who mentioned Terens to Fire SVP Sean Dennison, when the club was looking for the guy who would call games when the Fire’s other play-by-play voice, Arlo White, was busy with Premier League duties.
“Tony said to me, ‘I work with a young guy down here in Florida and he’s the real deal,’” Dennison explains. “He shared that he was a former college player, he’s extremely hard working, he’s passionate about the League and wanting to help it grow and, at the end of the day, that deep down he really wanted it. And to boot, he had the voice. He was outworking the competition and all he needed was his break. That resonated with me.”
Terens tells a great story about what it was like working with Meola at first, and how he struggled to introduce Meola on-air.
“I didn’t know what to call him! I was like, ‘Former MLS great? 2000 MVP of the League?’ So I called him like three different things in our first three games together,” Terens explains. “And he goes, ‘Hey Ty, how about you just call me the Hall of Famer?’ I said ‘You know what? That makes a lot of sense.’”
It’s a noon kickoff, which means an early start. Terens and Meola share an Uber to Soldier Field, getting to the stadium a couple hours before kickoff.
Once the lineups are announced, Terens peels off his labels and sticks them in formation on a green cardboard folder—the usual 4-2-3-1 for Chicago and a 4-4-2 diamond for Philadelphia. Fifteen minutes before the match, they record the open to the broadcast—it’s not scripted or really even rehearsed, the two just talk it over before giving it a go.
“Chicago Fire and Philadelphia, coming your way, next!”
When the game begins, they switch out their stick microphones and ear pieces for headsets. Meola changes out of his suit coat for a more comfortable North Face jacket—the booth is open air, after all, and it’s a bit chilly on this Saturday afternoon. Meola takes a dig at Terens—”I don’t even have him on in my headset. I can’t listen to him for 90 minutes!” It’s clear the two really do like one another. While there are chairs nearby, both men opt to stand the entire time. A crew member tells me neither guy ever sits.
While Terens has his sticker-folder system, Meola has a different setup, that has evolved since he began his TV career. Meola also uses stickers, but he keeps them in a notebook, which is absolutely packed with information. Each game is a separate entry, allowing him to go back and check his notes from previous matches. He also has a lineup card, which he hand-writes, in formation, using different colors for different kinds of notes. Meola keeps a green pen in his hand specifically for in-game notes, and he makes plenty of them throughout the 90 minutes.
A few times, the two use the cough button to quickly talk off-air, but more often, they use hand signals—a lot of pointing, with some inside jokes, too.
“Sometimes I’ll just give him a look, or he’ll give me a look, or it’s some sort of jerry-rigged hand motion, and we know exactly what we’re talking about,” Terens explains.
At halftime, the guys get ready for a live interview with Fire head coach Raphael Wicky. It’s still 0-0 at this point, and Justyne Freud from the Fire’s media team is down on the pitch, struggling to wrestle Wicky away from his assistants for the scheduled halftime segment. As they wait, Terens throws Meola a question or two to buy some time. In the booth it seems to drag out as they tap-dance live on-air, but those watching at home probably never notice. It all looks seamless.
After the half, Mauricio Pineda comes on for Chicago in place of Johan Kappelhof in defensive midfield. Terens pulls his Pineda notes sticker off the sheet of labels, and uses it to cover up Kappelhof in defensive midfield.
That first Philadelphia goal comes a few minutes later, and with it, a chorus of boos from upset Fire fans. Terens makes mention of Burke’s goal last season against the Fire—something he has on his match board in front of him. Meola blames Pineda for failing to track Burke’s run into the box. The two are working for the club, so criticizing players or coaches can get uncomfortable. But Meola and Terens both said they wouldn’t have taken the job unless they could be critical when necessary. Their boss is OK with that, too.
“It’s a part of the game,” Dennison says. “If you have a game that’s being called and the audience doesn’t feel the guys are being honest, that’s going to hurt us. Share what you see.”
Terens says getting goal calls right is the single most important part of his job. And sometimes, it’s the hardest. The Burke goal is quick, but he has a clear view. There are many times—especially a scrum off a corner kick, say—where it’s not so easy to see what immediately went down.
“Once you start to do it enough, you start to pick up on these little things, whether it’s the boots that the player’s wearing, whether it’s their style of hair,” Terens says. “I know that Gastón Giménez is gonna trot around with those frosted tips. If I see those frosted tips coming out of a scramble, I know that it’s that ‘Tonga’ who ends up scoring.”
The Fire can’t manage a goal on this day, however. Philly’s Jakob Glesnes goes on to score, making it 2-0. Chicago makes a frantic push toward the end to pull one back, but can not. A couple times late in the second half, Philadelphia sporting director Ernst Tanner, who is seated directly in front of the broadcast booth, is intensely flailing and shouting, clearly upset about something on the field. He’s livid, and it’s loud. Terens shoots Meola a look and a smile, with a point down at Tanner. It’s distracting, but the viewers at home never notice a thing on-air.
The match ends 2-0, a third straight loss for the Fire. Terens and Meola wrap up the broadcast, give each other a fist-bump and some thank yous for the crew, and go on their way. They’ll have to do it again in a few short days, when the Fire visit D.C. United. It’s a busy schedule, but Terens isn’t losing sight of what he does for a living.
“I get to call games for the Chicago Fire in a top three market in the United States in Major League Soccer. I get to do it from Soldier Field,” he says. “It still, to me, is the coolest thing.”