Brian Dunseth has made himself into one of the best soccer analysts on TV by thinking about his wife.
“I feel like I’m trying to talk to my wife and explain the game of soccer to her,” said Dunseth, who played professionally for eight years before becoming a part of the Real Salt Lake broadcast team in 2006. “She doesn’t really know the game at all and has never been a huge fan of sports. So I feel like I’m just trying to explain it to her while not trying to dumb it down. And not disrespect those that really understand the game.”
Which is one of the reasons he’s so good at what he does. He doesn’t talk down to fans who don’t understand the game; he doesn’t make it so simple he insults the intelligence of those who do.
It’s an extraordinarily fine line to walk, and one that few do well in this country. And it’s something Dunseth was inadvertently trained for as he was growing up playing soccer.
“My stepdad knew nothing about soccer and kind of threw me into the game,” he said. “And, through the years, I would have to explain to him what was going on. And now he tries to argue with me all the time about tactics and players and everything. So I think I’ve done a decent job kind of teaching him.”
Dunseth is no Pollyanna. He doesn’t hesitate to point out when players make mistakes — RSL players as well as their opponents. But he doesn’t go after players and makes a effort to point to positives, because he remembers what it was like to be criticized when he was on the field defending and the other team would score.
“I would get so furious at times because my ego would step in and say, ‘Yeah, but wait a minute. The breakdown happened here,’ ” he said. “So we’re always trying to pull back replays to where the play started.
“I think it’s much more important to accentuate the positives and make it kind of a teaching point for viewers to show what a player is doing so well that he’s causing another player to make mistakes. I feel like that’s always been something the players respect and, hopefully, the coaches respect.”
Dunseth and Bill Riley, who handles play-by-play for RSL telecasts, also stand out from the crowd because they’re not trying to be part of the crowd. It’s a hometown telecast, but they’re not homers. And they put considerable effort into not being homers.
“I literally have to mute certain games because I just cannot listen to the over-the-top homer broadcasts,” Dunseth said. “Even though in my heart, I’m a huge RSL fan, I try to make sure that I call it as fair as possible. In my opinion, you’re disrespecting the fans’ knowledge if you’re kind of overplaying the homefield advantage.”
If you’re listening to homers for the other team, it’s beyond aggravating. Even if they’re rooting for your team, it comes across as condescending.
Dunseth and Riley have both been approached by players from opposing teams who thanked them for their efforts to “call it straight and call it fair.”
It’s what Dunseth does in his other gigs. He works a few MLS games for NBC Sports and a few for FC Dallas. He’ll be working Gold Cup and CONCACAF Champions League games this year, and doing more Pac-12 soccer for the Pac-12 Network.
“It’s definitely the best job you could ever ask for,” he said.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter: @ScottDPierce.