By James Rhys.
Fire fans tuning in to Saturday’s clash with Inter Miami will once again be treated to the tones of play-by-play commentator, Tyler Terens, who returns to the booth for a third consecutive season alongside US Soccer hall of famer Tony Meola and NBC’s “voice of the Premier League” Arlo White.
Ahead of the season opener, WFi caught up with Terens to chat bout his love of soccer, learn how he got into broadcasting and in part II of the interview, get some exclusive behind the scenes insights into the Fire’s pre-season preparation.
Where did this journey begin for you? How did you first fall in love with soccer?
“That’s an interesting question. Falling in love with soccer sort of happened in stages for me. Growing up as a kid in New Jersey I always had played from a very young age and I was good at a young age but people started to catch up to me.
“I played in college at the Division III level and a little bit in Copenhagen. My one claim to fame is playing in a Danish FA Cup game while I was over there.
“From a playing standpoint, I always loved it. I loved the idea of scoring a goal, how difficult it was, I was always a striker growing up, there was something intriguing about the game itself but becoming a fan was a longer process for me.
“I never really watched soccer all that much. I was a pretty typical American sports fan — I like my Jets, my Mets, my Knicks and my Rangers, so obviously, misery is what I enjoy when it comes to sports fandom!
“Watching soccer wasn’t really something that was introduced to me. Even though my Dad played I didn’t have anyone to bond with while watching.
“It slowly started to happen in high school as I started to play at a higher level, to explore the academy route, but I was actually introduced to becoming a fan of the game and a fan of Liverpool by a club coach of mine.
“He started to foster my love and understanding of the game at a tactical level and he used to take me to training sometimes and we would listen to Sirius XM and Counter Attack with Tony Meola –who is now my broadcast partner. That’s where the fandom started.”
What was it about Liverpool that stood out, captured your attention and ignited that fandom?
“I mean, I’m a very emotional, heart on my sleeve kinda guy and watching a game with him for the first time and listening to ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and seeing the passion that exists within Anfield, for someone as emotional and extroverted as me, it was difficult not to fall in love with it.
“I was 15 at the time, so that’s about 13 years ago. About 2008? Post-Istanbul, so they weren’t great years for Liverpool but not horrific.
“The atmosphere, the noise, the history, the fact that they hadn’t won the Premier League, were a team that was struggling to get back to their glory days — that resonated with me as a Knicks fan, so it just sorta stuck with me.
“I also fell in love with Steven Gerrard and the way he plays the game. Fernando Torres, then Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. it was just easy to fall in love with a team like that.”
You mentioned earlier that you had played college football but I was interested to see you had majored in psychology. How did you go from studying psychology to becoming a journalist and broadcaster?
“From a young age, I was always fascinated by people. I’m extroverted by nature but once I got to school, I had to make a decision as to what to study and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I talked to my parents about soccer and they said, ‘yeah, you can do that but know that your options are pretty limited in terms of what you can actually do with that.’
“I always had the idea that I wanted to be around sports from a career standpoint but I didn’t know what that would look like, so I just chose Psychology.
“It was always something that piqued my interest, and the thing with me was, whenever my report cards came back when I was younger, they said ‘Tyler is really bright, but it’s only with stuff that he’s interested in. If he’s not interested, he’s distracting everybody, he’s a class clown and is typically like a ten-year-old version of Michael Scott.’
“So, I knew I needed to find something I was actually interested in if I was to apply myself properly.
“From a commentating standpoint, I went to a small, Division III liberal arts school, that didn’t have a broadcast journalism programme or anything like that. We were 45 minutes down the road from Syracuse and a lot of people ask me ‘why would you go to a 2400 student school to play college soccer if you knew you wanted to be a broadcaster?’ — I didn’t know I wanted to be a broadcaster until my junior year.
“I had three meniscus surgeries from the age of 17 to 21, so I was constantly injured, and I was hurt for a pre-season game with one of my best pals in the world, who’s a stand-up comedian in New York City. So my buddy Joey and I were both hurt. It was a rainy miserable day and we were told by our coach to ‘go upstairs, shut up — you’re filming the game.’
“So obviously, the two goofballs decide to do a fake broadcast of our team’s game. It was more of a comedy sketch than anything. I was doing this exaggerated, almost mocking, professional play-by-play, and my buddy put on an English accent as the analyst that sounded Australian.
“It was pure comedy, we were making fun of guys for what they had done the previous weekend and we knew our guys inside and out, so it was just fun.
“We end up telling our assistant coach, we were too afraid to tell our head coach, so he ends up putting the video on on the bus. We watched the entire thing on a two-hour drive back to Geneva and the guys were in tears.
“It was a great team bonding experience and we just had a bit of fun with it. We get off the bus and I feel, and you know, it was borderline inappropriate, I feel somebody grab the scruff of my neck when we get back to campus. I think ‘Oh boy, I might be getting tossed off the team here… we might have taken this a little bit too far.’
“It was my head coach and he was like ‘Ty, you might be on to something here. You should try to be a commentator. We have a student radio station, no one else is doing it, nobody else has any interest in it at a liberal arts school, why don’t you just try it out.’
“I sat on it for a couple of days, and I thought, why not? It sort of spiralled out of control from there, once we lost in our conference tournament my senior year, I hopped in the booth for our women’s team, our basketball team, our hockey team and that’s how it started.”
Last pre-szn call from FL. These may not mean anything competitively speaking but it’s invaluable for a broadcaster. Thanks to @PhilaUnion @fccincinnati and @NYCFC for putting up with an “outsider.” 4/17 ain’t too far away. @MLS #cffc #cf97 pic.twitter.com/OtfJJqGcrl
— Tyler Terens (@TNTerens) March 27, 2021
It’s not an easy industry to break into, especially as we see more and more ex-pros take on these commentary roles. Do you think it’s perhaps misunderstood just how much work goes into learning the craft?
“I think a lot of people who just watch sports and don’t think about what goes on behind the scenes might think they’re just rolling out of bed in the morning and starting to talk about the game but there are hours and hours of prep work that comes with it, and I had to learn the hard way that the only way.
“I was going to really get good at his was to do it as many times as humanly possible, because I didn’t have any proper training.”
How did you go from your ‘proving ground’ of commentating on 100s of games, multiple times a day, to working for an MLS club?
“It was a bit of a shock, honestly. I was a freelancer, I was working for me myself and I, and nobody else, and then I get thrown into this situation. [I went from] doing all the games off-site, pretty bare bones for the most part, to a 12-camera show on WGN in one of the top three markets in the United States.
“It was a transition, there’s no getting away from that and I’m not ashamed to say I had to adjust. I hope it didn’t come across on the air that I was adjusting to the big show…
“Not only that but now representing and speaking on behalf of a club. That was not something I was doing before. I was working for me and there were some clubs like Phoenix Rising that would reach out and ask me to commentate on their games, but it was always a handshake agreement and I could remain unbiased and as neutral as possible.
“Luckily, at the Fire they want it to feel like a national broadcast but also, I’m not going to bite the hand that feeds me.
“It’s been a transition to go from freelance to working for a club and working towards a common goal of making Chicago Fire FC as big as possible in a place like Chicago that has plenty of other attractions.”
You’re obviously a play-by-play commentator by trade, but you do so much more in your role at the club. Did you need to learn any new skills for the job or has it just given you an opportunity to utilise and showcase a whole host of things you can do?
“I’ve always had an affinity for writing and I still do some writing on the side — more personal stuff — but I always had a knack for it.
“It’s just been great and the club has really given me a lot of real estate to do a lot of different things like the podcast, like writing and be the face and the mouth for the club, for a lack of a better phrase.
“It’s not that I had to learn a new skill set but there were definitely things I had to refine, and I have a lot of great editors at the Fire that make sure that stuff goes through a couple of different filters before it actually gets put out into the world!”
I read a great story about the time you were catching a game with a former coach and he threw down the gauntlet a bit, saying you should be the American Arlo White. Now you get to work closely with him! What’s it like, working alongside someone you so clearly admire?
“It didn’t make sense when it all first went down. I went into the interview thinking that it was going to be my gig and I’d be calling the games with Tony.
“But towards the end of the interview, when I thought it was starting to go well, my then-boss said ‘You’re going to be covering games with Arlo when he’s here doing the Premier League, and we’ll have you down on the sideline as a sideline analyst and we’ll see how it goes.’ So for me, it was sorta full circle.
“When I started to really listen to different commentators and who I resonated with, Arlo’s passion for the game just comes out in spades.
“I don’t want to try and be anyone else, I want to be Tyler, but when it comes to emulating anything, it was his passion that I wanted to try to, to make it clear that I love this game just as much as the people who are playing it and watching it at home.
“There is no way to fake that and my passion for the game is genuine. Working with Arlo has been such a treat and he’s such a professional and I learn so much from him.
“He’s also just a great guy and we’ve had a lot of fun doing the podcast together. It’s just been surreal to work with a guy that literally was someone who seemed to be so far away, on this pedestal I put him on, and now I get to work and call games with him! It’s been a treat.”
The way @BSchweinsteiger speaks about Chicago makes us so happy.
— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) January 21, 2022
The podcast is such a fascinating thing. It’s an official club podcast but it also gives you the platform to discuss club issues, MLS, European football and the Premier League. That must be a pretty cool thing to be part of?
“The idea of a podcast for the club dated back to when we were all in quarantine in 2020. We were trying to work out what it would look like, and originally, we were thinking of something more along the lines of a history of the club, a daily kind of thing.
“We did a couple of episodes, we didn’t publish them, just gave them round internally, and we just weren’t sure this was it. We put it on the back burner, the season re-started and we put it away for the time being.
“The summer of 2021 rolls around, Arlo is in town and we re-visit the idea of a podcast. My then-boss basically just said, ‘what if it’s just you and Arlo?’ I was like, is Arlo going to have time? Is he going to want to do it?
“He was all for it. Podcasting was something he wanted to get involved in and we sorta just tried to work out what it was going to look like from a content standpoint. Arlo’s forte is the Premier League, mine is the Fire and MLS — why not just mix the two of them?
“Most MLS fans are European soccer fans, you can’t necessarily say the other way around. There are plenty of Premier League ‘snobs’ as we like to call them in America who won’t watch Major League Soccer, but it’s so much fun to be able to watch a Liverpool game called by Arlo and then talk about it with him 24 hours later on a podcast.
“That’s something, six years ago, three years ago, two years ago, I’d never have possibly imagined I would be doing.
“It’s so much fun and we’ve been given free rein to cover whatever we want. It’s been an awesome project and the fans really seem to enjoy it.”
Look out for part II of the interview, which looks ahead to the new season for Chicago Fire, coming soon!