Move over Men in Blazers, there are two new Brits on the MLS block
There’s a homespun charm to the set of “The MLS Show” where Peter Mcpartland and Barry Cass lounge in recliners amid MLS scarves and throwback kits and dish about the latest developments in Major League Soccer. You could expect a low-budget show like it to come from any MLS city — just two guys, a camera, and their opinions. But what makes “The MLS Show” unique is that Mcpartland and Cass are two English blokes from Liverpool. While some skeptical MLS fans might expect the show to be littered with continental condescension, Mcpartland and Cass are delightfully earnest with as much sincere passion for MLS as you’d find in Sporting Park or RFK Stadium. Wondering how these two guys fell so hard for MLS, I spoke to Mcpartland this week about the show and how he and Cass got interested in MLS. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Andrew Helms: So how did you guys get into MLS?
Peter Mcpartland: We got into MLS completely separately. We’ve known each other for a few years, but we hadn’t really come together as a partnership until the last three years. One of the reasons we had so much in common was that not only do we support the same club over here, Everton, but we both had a love of America as a whole. We both try and holiday there as much as we possibly can. We both love Orlando, especially. Barry holidays there most years, and I actually got married in Orlando.
It’s a shared love, and I think just from loving America and having that we both were really interested in football (or soccer) in America because obviously it’s not a major sport. We desperately want it to be a major sport because it’s our sport. And through that we’ve just watched more and more of the MLS to see how it’s developed and how it’s growing and what more it needs to grow.
What we’ve eventually found is a version of the sport that hasn’t been really corrupted by money yet. I think that’s one of the reasons we both like it. We’re both getting a little bit tired and a little bit jaded by the European version, the Premier League even more so, which is just dominated by money now. It’s become a really, really hard environment for teams to win trophies. And that, at the end of the day, is what we grew up with. Winning trophies is the top and bottom of sport, not finishing fourth and making money out of the Champions League. I think we just love the fact that MLS is so open, and it looks like any team can win it.
Since you and Barry have a love for Orlando, did the arrival Orlando City SC this year pull you guys into MLS?
Funny enough, I’ve been saying for years that Orlando should have a team. There’s actually nothing that English people love more than when they go somewhere for that place to feel like home. It’s an odd thing. But English people, when they go somewhere, they want to find the nearest English bar or the nearest Irish bar. So for there to be a soccer club in Orlando, it seemed like an absolute no-brainer for us.
But to be fair I’d been into the sport and into the league for a lot longer than that. It’s just been an added bonus that Orlando’s there, especially with the manager being Adrian Heath who is a bit of an Everton legend. But Orlando’s certainly not my team. My team is actually Sporting Kansas.
Oh, interesting. How’d that happen?
I think the main reason originally was that a lot of Everton players originally went to play for Sporting Kansas City — Paul Rideout, Preki, Mo Johnston, Richie Gough — they all went to the club at some point. That elevated them slightly for me. But I actually do a podcast called The Followtonians, which is an Everton podcast, and I’ve been doing that for five years. And I actually do that podcast with a guy who lives in Kansas, his name is Eric Howell. He’s Kansas born and bred, and he got into Everton through the other route. He’s a Sporting Kansas City fan who actually found the links between Sporting Kansas and Everton, obviously because of people like Tim Howard and Landon Donovan. That Sporting Kansas top I wear in our first video, well it’s actually a Wizards top, I’ve had that since it was brand new! It’s not something I picked up on eBay. They’re my team, Sporting Kansas. One of my little dreams would be to go over to Sporting Park and watch Sporting Kansas play.
When you tell your friends in England that you just started a YouTube show about MLS, what do they say?
They expect nothing different from me, to be honest. For five years, I’ve been doing podcasting. I’ve got a radio show in the city. I’ve got an Everton YouTube channel, and I used to have a different radio show where we actually did a feature on MLS. What I used to actually do was incorporate Eric Howell. I used to speak to him on Skype maybe on Sunday night, and we’d do a little ten minute piece and put it into the show. So even two or three years ago, I was doing it.
To be honest, I didn’t really care what others thought about it. If it’s something I like, then that was the whole point of it. We dressed it up in a clever way. We put music over the top of it, we jazzed it up, and we made Eric say silly, American things that made him sound like a “real American” to stereotypical people.
And that’s what we’re trying to do with this. We’re trying to do the same thing. I think what helps here is obviously Steven Gerrard is coming into the league and Frank Lampard is coming into the league. And certainly for Liverpool fans, Steven Gerrard is everything. He is Kobe, he is LeBron James. You name any American icon of sport, that’s what Steven Gerrard is here. He’s not my icon, but he is a huge icon of the game here.
And because he’s going into the MLS, everyone is aware of what MLS is. And obviously having Beckham there and Robbie Keane, too. If you say LA Galaxy in this country, everyone will know the LA Galaxy. There’s no stigma or anything attached to them.
I think everyone understands that it could takeoff because Sky Sports have taken the TV broadcast rights over here. They put their own commentary teams on it, as well, which is quite a recent development. We’ve had MLS here, but we’ve always had coverage coming from the American commentators. I think putting our own commentators on the broadcast makes it easier for people to stomach as well. It’s a lot more familiar. I think it all helps drive MLS on. They want to be a global brand, and we’re just sort of trying to do our bit.
Are people watching the Sky Sports coverage? Is that the normal way to watch MLS in England?
If you want to watch the live games, generally the only way to watch it is Sky Sports. They put the 10 o’clock games on Sunday night so it’s not a problem to watch. It’s at a good time, especially in the summer when there’s less going on, especially with Gerrard and Lampard coming into it.
There’s actually a sneaky way to watch, too. Sky has a betting app, and they stream games on the betting app. So — you don’t actually have to bet — you can effectively watch every single game without any problems.
Also, MLSsoccer.com really helps. You can get all the highlights, really interesting five minute videos, and you can get the goals straightaway so even if you aren’t watching the game you can catch up pretty quickly. I think MLS really understand that they have to make themselves accessible. So for a fan like me, if LA Galaxy are playing at 3 or 4 in the morning, I can catch up pretty quickly the day after.
One thing we don’t have here, and I’ve actually said this to Sky, is that it’d be really nice to have a highlights package program. That would really help. I’ve gone in and asked Sky and they don’t seem to really forthcoming in that. Maybe if that was something that MLS could put together — I think they might already have something like that — because that’s how we’re used to watching a lot of our football is through highlights packages.
So you’ve just got started with “The MLS Show” and put out a few videos. How’d you decide to start the show?
So we did a show about three months ago right at the beginning of the MLS season. We decided to have a video about what we like and what we don’t like, to give our perspective without talking down to anyone. And we found that a lot of people really liked it, and we found a little audience of two or three thousand people who watched on YouTube. We got really good feedback, and no one said we were being condescending or being Eurosnobs.
So we basically thought, why don’t we do it? We’ve got the facilities, we’ve got the equipment it’ll just be a little bit more time for us to do another video. We waited until the Premier League season was over before we started so that we could do it properly without rushing into it and looking silly.
To be honest, we didn’t really expect too much of it. I know the MLS community is a really good community. I do follow a lot of people on Twitter, a lot of people who have done their own podcasts. I know how important that community has been to MLS growing because it doesn’t necessarily grab newspaper headlines so it’s got to have made it’s own community in order to grow. So, we didn’t really expect anything, and we’re just really happy the way it’s been received.
I think people have understood straight away that we’re not trying to talk down to anyone, not trying to force the way football is over here. We’re looking at MLS for what it is since we enjoy it and want to talk about it. What we’re not going to do is talk about things we don’t know. We’re going to focus on things we know about and just try and grow and learn and get the ins and outs of MLS as much as we can. We just want to have fun doing it.
The MLS community can, rightfully, be a little defensive. They’re used to being put down not only by fans of European soccer but also by fans of other American sports. So I think many American soccer fans were surprised to find a video with two English guys just being so sincere in their love of MLS. It was quite refreshing.
Yeah, that’s been pretty much what we’ve tried to do. You only have to look at the videos to tell that we don’t have a big budget. We’ve got a green screen, and we’re just trying to do the best that we can. If it grows, we’ll try to make out a little set. We’ve got bits and pieces, and people are volunteering to send us scarves so we’ll try to make it look as good as we can.
It’s not a case of thinking we’re going to make money out of it or try anything like that. We just really enjoy watching MLS. We love the randomness of it. We love the fact that there’s a sprinkling of great players here and there and the teams make up for it with a lot of hard work.
The most important thing for us was that we didn’t want to insult anyone or act like we knew better than anyone because we don’t. We don’t know about playing in three different time zones, or playing on grass one week and on turf the week after, we don’t know anything about playing at altitude or in the heat of Orlando. So are we grow we are hoping that other people can educate us. Some people watching have said, “You got this little fact wrong or that fact wrong,” and that’s great because they told us exactly what we want to know.
Your set is great. Is that in your house?
No, but about a year ago, we were actually in Barry’s house. When we first started we were in a community radio station and that’s where we had the little MLS radio segments. It was a makeshift green screen and we used iPhones. It was really poor at first. And then we moved into Barry’s house and we did the same thing with green screens and mobile phones. And then we moved into a pub right by Everton’s stadium. The inside of it actually looks like a TV studio. We got some guys from a local university who were doing degrees in media, and they helped us with cameras and sound.
Recently, we’ve teamed up some guys who do a Liverpool show, and they’ve managed to get their own space and they’ve got really good equipment. And they’ve allowed us to use their space so that’s actually just a corner of one of the studios. It’s a bit thrown together and one of our friends does all the graphics for us. As we get a little bit further on, we’re hoping to make a set for both shows. It does look like someone’s backroom now, but I think that as we get better that kind of thing will improve.
You can’t lose the recliners!
Even Alexi Lalas was commenting on the chairs on Twitter a couple of days ago so we must be doing something right!
So let’s talk some MLS. How do you think Lampard and Gerrard will do coming over from the Premier League?
To be honest, I think personally it’ll be a shock to the system for both of them. So far, every time I’ve seen a player go over there for the first five or six months, they seem to be lost. The last one was Tim Cahill. He was just one of my idols at Everton. But I actually thought the first year he was going to absolutely storm MLS, but it took him the whole part of that season to get into it, to get used to the fitness, traveling, and conditions.
You see in that second season how important he was to New York, and you can say the same about Beckham. I think their attitudes are going to have to be that it’s not a retirement home and you’ve got to hit the ground running. Especially with Gerrard who is only contracted for a season and a half at the moment, he’s got to hit the ground running. I really hope they’ve been doing that little bit of extra training to make sure they’re up to the levels.
If one’s going to succeed more than the others I think it’ll be Lampard because I just think his work intensity is a lot more than Gerrard’s. Gerrard is used to sitting in front of the back four and spreading the passes around and playing like that so I think Lampard will be the stronger from the start. But if Gerrard has been working hard and he knows what it takes physically becuase I’ve said this from the start — I think MLS is one of the fittest leagues in the world. Players understand that you need to be ultra fit. So yeah I think they’ll do okay but it make take them a bit of time.