When the NWSL Game of the Week makes its debut on Lifetime on Saturday (Portland vs. Orlando, 3 p.m. ET), on the play-by-play call for the broadcast will be Jenn Hildreth, a veteran women’s soccer announcer who has called, among other games, the last two NWSL Championships and the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
We caught up with Hildreth earlier this week for a quick chat to get her thoughts on the upcoming season and what she expects to see in Portland on Saturday.
Q: It’s the season opener, in Portland, on Lifetime — what do you think the atmosphere is going to be like?
JH: Oh my gosh. What is the atmosphere always like in Portland? They spoil us. It’s so fantastic. I just get excited thinking about any game I get to do there, to be honest. I think that, talking to a lot of players in the league, they honestly feel the same way. They understand that it’s a home field advantage for Portland but it is just so much fun to play there.
I think they realize they had a great season last year in Portland but it ended there on their home field, in an incredible game. One of the best I’ve ever been a part of in that 4-3 semifinal loss that they had to Western New York. I think this team is really excited to get on the field and get going.
It’s such a huge difference, not only for Portland, but for all these teams, that this is a very different year in NWSL, that they are not going to have the international disruptions that we had last year with Olympics, or World Cup, and a lot of their international players and U.S. national team players being in and out.
So, I think there’s a lot more continuity with all the teams. I know Mark Parsons feels that way at Portland. And he’s even said, he realizes the pressure is on now, because they basically don’t have an excuse for not getting better each week. On the Portland side of things, I think they are for sure going to be one of the best teams in the league this year. They certainly have the roster to do that.
And I think Orlando is going to be really exciting with what they’ve got coming together. Tom Sermanni, in his second year with that group down in Orlando. Obviously, the Marta signing is very exciting. I think there is a lot to like about that first matchup. And just getting it on the air with NWSL on Lifetime. I think there’s a lot of excitement thrown in this match up.
Q: You mentioned the playoff game in Portland last year. You had three playoff games last year, that all went to extra time, one to penalty kicks, after a last-second game-tying header by the MVP of the league. What’s it like to call one game like that, let alone three in ten days?
JH: I was walking on air. I’m not even kidding. That’s why you get into this business, to call games like that. Those were some of the most exciting games I have ever been a part of at any level of my career in any sport.
You want drama. And not only do you want close games, you want them to be good games. And I felt like, even with the nasty weather that we had for the one playoff game in Maryland, it was still a great game. They were dramatic, you had players stepping up, becoming heroes and making big plays when it counted.
It is always tough to go to penalties. It’s a tough thing in our sport.
For me as an announcer, I think when it gets to be these tight games, especially when it gets to the end, I’m just thinking, “OK, don’t mess it up. Big moments are going to be happening here. Don’t mess it up. Stay out of the way of the game and make sure you’re there when the moment happens.”
Q: You’ve mentioned Portland and Marta — What else do you think we’ll see this year in the league?
JH: I think one of the main themes … is just the depth, not only of the league, but within each team.
That teams feel like they are really building. It’s been tough for a lot of rookies to get in and get drafted this year because of the quality and the depth of so many of these teams. So I’m looking forward to that and I’m looking forward to a lot of quality match-ups with teams that are going to have the time to really train together and not have those disruptions.
I am curious to see which teams grow and get better each week. I know that’s a pretty broad, overreaching statement, but I think that goes for everyone.
I’m very curious about Washington, about what the team is going to look like. Because while Portland is very similar, I think they returned the most players in the league. Washington had so many changes and so many big names going out of there in the offseason that you wonder what you’re really going to see on the field, so I’m glad I am going to get to see them early on, in Week 2 down in Orlando.
Q: Looking ahead to Saturday, for a broadcaster, what’s your weekly preparation like and what’s gameday like?
JH: I think it’s a little bit different in Week 1 just because I’m having to spend more time than I normally would on the league as a whole, just getting caught up with everybody. Typically early on in the week, if there had been other games played, I’d be trying to watch some video, starting to put together my boards, and make sure I’ve got all of my information on the teams and the individual players updated. International information and what’s been going on with their respective teams. …
There are a lot of parts in motion this season with what Lifetime and A+E [Networks] are doing with this broadcast. To have the pregame show, and Dalen Cuff is our host. I think everybody’s really going to enjoy getting a chance to see him every week. He’s a great guy and loves soccer.
Obviously, I get to have Aly [Wagner] next to me every week. I think she’s fantastic. She and I have never called a game together yet, but we did call the parade coverage of the celebratory parade after the 2015 Women’s World Cup. I think she’s going to be great — as anybody who’s ever heard her call a game knows.
Q: Thanks for talking to us today. We are looking forward to Saturday.
JH: Thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to it, too.