Our Game. Our Stories.
The essence of soccer is captured in the fact that it connects a wide variety of people in a dynamic way. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are profiling 20 individuals who have made a significant impact on the game of soccer or who have been impacted by soccer in a positive way. Here, we will show you the diversity of the beautiful game and how it connects everyone as one universal team...Together, We Are Soccer.
This is our game and these are our stories. Be sure to visit our site every week to see who we feature next!
As host of Around the Horn on ESPN, Tony Reali is known for his in-depth knowledge of sport statistics and his lively coverage of the day’s top sports stories. On the show, Reali awards points to panelists based on the quality of their comments – and deducts points or mutes panelists for arguments or comments deemed nonsensical.
Reali joined ESPN in 2000 as researcher/writer for ESPN's quiz show Two Minute Drill. In 2001, he joined Pardon the Interruption as "Stat Boy," where his role was to correct and fact-check hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. He assumed the role of host of Around the Horn in 2004. Prior to joining ESPN, Reali was a sportscaster for WFUV 90.7 FM in New York and was the host of New York City’s longest-running sports call-in show, One on One.
We hear you played a lot of soccer growing up. What position did you play? Do you have a favorite memory from your youth soccer days?
Center Forward. I peaked early and grew late. Age 5: played halftime of Cosmos-Rowdies at Giants Stadium. Age 10: one of the millions with a Giorgio Chinaglia shout-out on the back of their playing card. Age 15: 4'11'' 98 lbs: Happy Trails, Career. My high school-Christian Brothers Academy- played for the state championship every year I was there. I had a comfortable seat to see it all.
At the Foundation, we believe that sports can be used to teach kids larger lessons about teamwork, responsibility and the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. Which lessons from the field have been most influential in your life and career thus far?
For the younger me sports were about getting outside and having fun. For my parents they were about a safe environment and a way for me to burn energy so I wouldn’t drive them crazy all night. (Sports failed in that respect.) People say it’s all about setting goals, overcoming adversity and building character - and that’s true - but for me in that moment it was about LAPS. And DRILLS. And more DRILLS. And then LAPS again. I remember RUNNING! Statistics tell us physical activity in our younger years leads to better habits that lead to longer, healthier lives. That longer life of health and wellness allows us to reach our full potential. Childhood obesity and youth delinquency are two challenges we face as a nation right now. Sports is how we can fight back.
Now that I get to talk about sports every day for a living the lessons I learned on the field in my youth teach me all over again. Hard work, Teamwork, Focus, Dream, Believe, Achieve: we couldn't produce one show without them. Teamwork above all else. Didn’t we all reach a point at about age 8 or 9 when we realized we couldn’t do it all alone anymore? We couldn’t dribble the length of the field, nutmeg 10 guys and put it in anymore? That’s life – there’s always another defender coming! You need teammates. Learning to work with others is a lasting lesson that continues to instruct. It helps us achieve more.
American sports fans have been known to criticize soccer for being a “low-scoring” game. What if we switched things up and started scoring games Around the Horn style? Walk us through what a match would look like, if you got to allocate the points. (For example, extra points for a particularly nice pass or a goal scored off of a header; minus points for a foul or obvious flop)
First, full disclosure (and this is the most guarded secret of Around the Horn): I judge the panel on accuracy, information, point of view and style. Good answers get two points; Inside Information gets three and any pop culture reference I’m feeling at that moment can get as much as five. Right now that’s all about Archer, Key & Peele and Days of Our Lives. I smack the mute button to penalize and direct traffic. Get it, got it, good. Let's go Around the Horn.
“Welcome back around to the beautiful game with the not so beautiful panel. I kid, I kid! Some of my favorite panels are not so beautiful. And we’re off! Donovan and Dempsey touch and go. +1 for going forward! Minus 1 for going back!! +1 for going forward!!! Minus 1 for going back!!!! Now here’s Suarez - Oh! He goes down like the NASDAQ. Minus 3! And now he’s being booked, that’s a good call, +2 for Howard Webb. Suarez now going berserker - minus 3 - and he’s giving Webb the hairdryer, which is especially impressive considering Webb’s current follicular endowment, +3. Now Webb’s sent him off! Early Doors and it was deserved! +5. We’re back now, moving forward. Bradley is a tiger down the middle, nothing will stop him, just like Sami when someone’s trying to stop her from getting her way,+2. That EJ will soon find out, believe you me, Hell Hath No Fury Like A Sami Scorned! Minus 10. Sorry about that, we’ll move on: A corner here, the US entering the Danger Zone, plus 5! Dempsey a Head…and GOOOOOOOAL!!!!. DEUCES!!! US up 1-0 after Dempsey put the Keeper on the Chain Wax, +10!!!
I think it would be better for everybody if I stopped here.
Which current Men’s or Women’s National Team member do you think would make the best guest panelist on Around the Horn, and why?
There’s no doubt in my mind Landon Donovan would happily sit in the big chair tomorrow and mute people back to the Stone Age. He’d be great at it. Plus he could kick the paper at the camera at the end. (Set pieces!) So he starts at host. For my four on screen: Bradley, Holden, O’Reilly and Wambach. Bradley because he’s as tenacious as an iTunes update. Stu for his talent and heart and because he deserves a break. Heather O’Reilly for her steadiness and control and she’s a Jersey girl. And Abby because she closes like Mariano Rivera. Shea and Rapinoe come off the bench because it’s good to have hair late.
In 2011, you had the opportunity to participate in Mia Hamm’s Celebrity Soccer Challenge. What was it like to play alongside soccer stars like John Harkes and Alex Morgan?
Humbling. I marked Alex for the last 5 minutes of the game and I was her shadow. Until she started moving. She took a pass waist high, side-foot juggled it around my horn, and cracked a missile lower 90. The noise my body made when this happened was the mating call of defeat.
The only positive is that there’s no video of it. Oh wait, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IHmr5nbGqI
That game was a blast. I stood on the field with 8 World Cuppers and Kobe Bryant. Stole a ball from Mia and scored on Zubizarreta. Did a Karate Kid celebration and wore shorts two sizes too small. Every day should be like that.
The game has grown tremendously in the United States over the past 20 years. In your opinion, what will the sport look like in another 20 years?
In 1994 I was saving up for a hoverboard because they were going to be THE mode of transportation in 2014. I was expecting full-on Jetsons by now. Point: I’m not the best at seeing the future. But to hazard a hunch: 20 years from now soccer will be the #3 sport in the US - microscopically behind basketball for #2 and within shouting distance of football for #1. The sports hierarchy is promised to no one. From 1920-1970 baseball was supreme and boxing and horse racing were close behind. Two of those are now ghosts and a World Series game gets the same TV rating as Duck Dynasty. Smart people point to national demographics, youth numbers, National Team improvement, MLS growth, EPL on American TV, FIFA 14 etc. etc. as to why soccer will grow in this country. I agree with all those and will lob in one more: emerging viewing habits. Television viewers are increasingly going elsewhere with their eyes. Streaming. Digital. Mobile. With the sports that have reigned here under the old model- NFL (steady, awesome ratings) College Football/College Basketball/NBA/MLB (steadyish, boom and bust ratings), NASCAR/PGA/NHL (unsteady, bust and boom ratings) - there’s going to be a period of adjustment with inherent challenges. Some may not translate as well. I'll bet soccer makes the transition best. There's so much untapped potential. Access to leagues and games that have recently just barely become available on TV are now a click away. A viewer in the US can act as their own cable provider watching EPL on TV, Serie A on their laptop, Bundesliga streaming on Apple TV, while setting their fantasy MLS roster on their phone. The global nature of soccer, which long has been something detractors said choked soccer's growth in the US, will be its greatest strength.
Oh, also: 20 years from now FIFA’s President will be Grant Wahl.
And we’ll all have hoverboards.