Play is about to begin in the English Premier League, and that means summer is over for Arlo White. The former Sounders FC broadcaster begins his fifth season as EPL play-by-play voice for the NBC Sports Group with a whirlwind of assignments. All this comes after the Whites vacationed at some iconic American destinations.
Arlo White may have returned to his native England, but he always holds America close to his heart, not to mention some clubs that, like his beloved Leicester City, enjoyed profound success in the past year.
Your summer is a short one and the English season is about to begin. Are you able to get breaks for off-field fun during the EPL season?
During the season–and it’s a long season, some nine and half months–every time there’s a FIFA break or an FA Cup weekend and the Premier League teams are idle, my daughters are in school. And every time their school is on vacation, I’m working on Premier League games. It’s very, very difficult to spend any quality time together. As soon as the season ends in May, we head off to some place nice, like the beach, just to decompress a little bit at the end of the season.
People following on Twitter saw you share postcards from some great destinations these past few years. How long were these trips in the works?
During winter months, we are busy planning our next American adventure. In 2015, we went to Florida to do Disney and did a bit of a road trip down to Naples, and it gave us a taste for something a little bit more expansive. Last summer we landed in San Francisco. We drove to Yosemite, we drove back to Los Angeles and did the great Pacific Coast Highway and it was fantastic. This year we differed slightly, and planned it meticulously. We landed in Las Vegas, drove to the Grand Canyon, then Palm Springs, Santa Monica, down to San Diego and then flew to Chicago where I spent four nights with my family which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Seattle. Hopefully that will be part of a future trip. We love our U.S. vacations and road trips. We’ve developed a little bit of a soft spot for California as well.
Clearly, you still have interest in America, it’s culture and attractions. What determines your itinerary?
I didn’t expect Lizi and the girls to go for the road trip aspect. But now that the girls (twins) are 10 years old they are more amenable to doing things like adults, such as seeing scenery, and they know that the payoff will be doing fun stuff as well. We try to combine all of our interests during our trips, so you’ll notice that there’s a baseball game, such as this year with my beloved Cubs (last year it was the Giants); we do the national parks, this year the Grand Canyon and, last year, the unbelievable Yosemite. There also theme parks like Six Flags Great America, Disneyland and Universal Studios, but also plenty of beaches and time in the swimming pool as well.
Is this affinity for America rubbing off on your family?
It is, strangely. The girls vaguely remember our time in Seattle; they were very young. They do remember our time in Connecticut a bit better, having gone to kindergarten there, and they just love everything about America. I’ve indoctrinated them successfully. And Lizi feels that way as well. I don’t think Lizi had a love for the United States until we started visiting and living there. Now she absolutely adores the place. I don’t have to twist any arms for these long trips.
How does the decompression go after a long season?
Last May was a particular challenge because Lizi had emergency surgery in April. At that point, I stepped away for 2-3 weeks. NBC were fantastic and very understanding. But I was keen to get back and make sure everything was taken care of at home and that Lizi was cared for. When it came time to step back into it for the championship run-in, it was an intensive period, something like 12 games in 20-24 days. That was quite intense. Perhaps when I put the microphone down after the final game of the season at Arsenal, only then did I realize how stressful the last 2-3 months had been in our personal life. It did take a little while to come back from that.
Over the summer, did you unplug some, mostly, or completely?
Spending time with the family always helps, but now I’m fully recharged. I like to make the most of the summers. I don’t watch massive amounts of live soccer or preseason games, but a lot of friendlies were stored on my DVR, so I’ve watched a lot in preparation, and I kept up on the news. I watch a few MLS games, but I don’t need to feed my soccer fix every day. I find that as much as I adore the game, it’s good to cultivate other interests as well, like traveling and reading. I was lucky enough to go with some old college buddies and visit Somme, France, scene of the famous World War I battle, and also the Normandy beaches, such as Omaha Beach, site of the D-Day landings. I have a love of history, of combat history, and I’m able to indulge in those things. Then I find that when I step back in, here in August, and look at that long nine and a half-month season, I am absolutely and fully recharged, with a clear mind and ready to go again.
What things have caught your eye with respect to American soccer of late?
The Gold Cup was interesting. It’s not a tournament that necessarily demands attention or inspires it because it’s so regular, being played every two years in the United States. It’s a bit formulaic, and we didn’t get the big US-Mexico showdown, which is always the highlight of that particular tournament. But we did see certain players doing well: Clint (Dempsey) and, in the final, Jordan Morris. That caught my attention.
You broadcast Sounders games for two seasons, followed by nearly two years of MLS on NBC. What are your thoughts on the club and the league in general?
The ongoing success of the Sounders is always a joy to me. I follow it as much as I can. I left too soon to get a ring unfortunately [laughs]. It seems to be going very well, on and off the field. Elsewhere, Atlanta United have hit the ground running, and David Beckham seems to be making some progress in Miami.
How much has MLS changed in your estimation?
I left the Sounders at the end of the 2011 season and I left MLS midway through the 2013 season, and it feels to me that the league has gone on to a higher plane. Big franchises, big franchise fees, brilliantly organized clubs coming into the league electrifying fans and selling lots of tickets. It’s changed the atmosphere and it feels like a completely different league than the one I left. The revolution began in the Pacific Northwest, with Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, and it’s been strengthened further. It appears to be in a very healthy state.
You must admit 2016 was a very good year for three of your most loved clubs.
The fact that they all happened within, what 6-7 months, was just incredible. My association with the Sounders was only 2-3 years, but my affinity will last way beyond that. I was absolutely delighted for everybody. The playing staff has turned over a lot since I was there, but I know a lot of people with the club and, like you, who are no longer with the club. We share that common history; great friends who shared an incredible experiences and one that changed my life. I am a genuine fan of the club and always will be. To watch that and see it unfold under Brian (Schmetzer) during the second half of the season, culminating in that penalty shoot-out in Toronto, it was just incredible.
My sports fandom has peaked, all in a 7-month period. It’s never going to be that great again. I mean Leicester City, we never thought it was going to happen in the first place. For lightening to strike twice, if Leicester City win the Premier League again I will be very, very surprised. To experience that once was just amazing. I’ve got pictures of the team lifting the trophy and (Jamie) Vardy celebrating goals and all sorts of pictures around my office and the house, as many as I can get away with. I still can barely believe what happened. Then that was followed up by the Chicago Cubs. They’ve been my baseball team since I first saw them in ’86. All three things happening in that short period. I had almost celebration fatigue at one point. It’s been a fantastic ride.
What are some storylines you see developing for the coming EPL season?
MLS have really taken the bull by the horns regarding VAR. It’s going to be fascinating to see how that goes, and the Premier League is seriously looking at implementing that next season. As far this season goes, the initiative from the referees and the Premier League is to try stamping out simulation. This new system whereby if a referee judges simulation happens during a game and a yellow card is issued, that’s the end of the matter. However, if in a big decision like a red card or a penalty kick the referees are deemed to have missed a simulation, it will now be re-refereed. Now a panel will be seated on Monday morning and if that panel–a former player, a former manager and a former referee–finds a player guilty of simulation, the player will receive a 2-game ban. That’s a big punishment and it’s going to make a lot of players think twice about diving. So maybe we are a step closer to eliminating what is a scourge of the game.
How’s the race for the top shaping up?
I think Manchester City are the favorites. Pep Guardiola had a difficult time in his first season, not winning a trophy, and he’s spent a king’s ransom on fullbacks and strengthening various areas of the team, and I think they’re going to have too much for everybody else. Jose Mourinho has to get Manchester United in the top four. Since NBC took over (televising EPL), we’ve only seen Man United kind of struggle. We missed the Fergie years. From our perspective, it would be interesting to see Manchester United back up there because they have such a huge fan base in the United States. Chelsea appear to me to be on a slight downer, which to a degree is self-inflicted. Conte’s treatment of Diego Costa and the fact that they sold more players than they bought; we’ll have to see how their defense goes. Liverpool has to resolve Coutinho. Will Arsenal regain their top-four spot? Will Spurs fare well at Wembley? I might have chosen them as title favorites if they were playing at White Hart Lane. And then we’ll have to see how the new boys get on. Huddersfield Town is a club with terrific history and then of course Newcastle has been a regular member of the Premier League. So, many storylines, as usual.
Is there an innovation or staple of American sports that you think would merit consideration in the EPL?
In terms of the games themselves, I don’t think so. Football is a very, very simple game. I guess the temptation is to complicate it. When (officials’) decisions are mistaken and cost club points, there’s a bottom line to that. So, yes, there’s a need to get decisions right. Off the field, there are very few fans of football in England who could care less about American sports. But I’m growing little weary of wild west style approach to the transfer window. I’m growing weary of players signing lucrative 5-year contracts and demanding transfers and refusing to play a year or maybe 18 months into that contract. I know salary caps won’t work, and single entity won’t work because we’re in a global market. They do it in America, but it won’t work anywhere else in the world. If they did it in the Premier League all the players would go to, say, Spain or Italy. But I’d like to see sanctity of the contract made more important. The transfer window doesn’t close for another three weeks, so you’ve got teams going in unsettled; Southampton with Virgil van Dijk, Chelsea and Costa, Liverpool and Coutinho. It’s unsettling, it’s unsavory. I’d like to see the sanctity of the contract permanent, and if that means players don’t sign five-year deals, fine. But I’d like to see a system implemented whereby there is not allowance for movement in the first two years of a longtime contract. If that means shorter contracts, that’s fine. If fees come down as a result, that’s fine too because some of the figures being thrown around are absolutely ridiculous. Some sort of regulation of the transfer system would be most welcome.
The whole New York-based NBC EPL crew is coming your way this week. What a way to start the season.
It’s not the first time we’ve done it. It’s kind of a well-trodden path now. We travel around as a team. It’s a lot of fun to do but very intensive; I have commentaries on the three matches in three days. I’ve got to host at pitch-side but then dash up to the gantry, or the booth as it’s known in America, and then dash back down to interview the protagonists pitch-side. It’s going to be hectic but everybody gets on famously. I have massive respect for all of them as people and as broadcasters. Their knowledge really is phenomenal and we really do have the best pundits in the business in terms of their ability to breakdown games and issues in the game. They are so well prepared, so erudite, and they’re so experienced. So, when we all get together, it’s great. As we get in the mini buses and travel around the country it will be fun and I’m delighted it’s the opening weekend because every team is full of hope at this point, rather than their fate already being decided. It’s a fantastic way to start the season.
Thinking back these last 10 or so years for you, personally, and your family, ever pinch yourself?
This morning I was going through all my suits, and I told Lizi I might give this particular one away because I’ve had it 10 years. She said, “No you haven’t; you wore that in Seattle, and that’s only been seven years.” It’s remarkable because when I look back at first arriving in Seattle in 2009, covering for Kevin Calabro and then coming back in 2010, it changed my life so fundamentally for the better. But it seems like such a long time ago. The journey has been phenomenal and I have to pinch myself sometimes. Yes, I’m a very, very lucky boy.
Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian. This story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.