Commentary

How to watch Union II away matches

Photo: Ben Ross

Now that Philadelphia Union II’s first two away matches have been streamed, watched, and reported, it is time to suggest how to watch live streams of Union II away games effectively.

Union II’s next match is away this Saturday, May 7 in Ft. Lauderdale, where they’ll face Inter Miami CF II at 7 p.m., four hours before the first team taps off at LAFC.

The video stream

Video is available “five minutes” before tap-off on the MLS NEXT Pro website. Be patient as neither the stream nor the subsequent microphone will appear as precisely as the viewer might expect.

The quality of the stream rarely allows uniform numbers to be seen. The automated camera is too far away, and the contrast between shirt color and the big number may not be strong.  Viewers need already to have an idea who the player is likely to be from his position and role. Names on backs and numbers on legs are un-readable.

There is one automatic unmanned camera that provides neither closeups nor replays. A screen graphic displays the teams, the score, and a match clock, but the clock does not register stoppage time.

The camera’s program does not adjust to penalty kick shootouts. It pulls away from the shooter when he stands still prior to his run-up and swings back only when it detects movement near the ball. If his run-up is brief, the shot fails to be shown. (Sources have said the Union has already written the video provider and have assured PSP the problem is being addressed.)

The verbal commentary is from a studio. Usually the commentator does not know who the players are either. Only goalkeepers can be identified with certainty. Probably the commentator follows the league’s written “feed” on his cell phone, the way the rest of us should as we watch the stream on a second larger-screened device.

Old match streams are not saved on the league’s website, only match highlights. It is the same on YouTube. Full matches must be watched live or not at all.

MLS NEXT Pro uses a streaming service called “Spiideo.” Its free level of service most closely fits the product presented on regular broadcasts. (“Game of the week” broadcasts are supposed to be better.) Spiideo’s camera almost always covers the entire field, giving a bird’s eye view. How it will do when the only available mounting point is low is unknown. Stadium sizes vary widely so available mounting points may follow suit.

Spiideo has not yet worked out its technical glitches. Videos have gone black and audio has cut out, further reinforcing the usefulness of following a written feed on a secondary device.

Even with these caveats, while Spiideo’s automation is not as good as real cameramen directed by an experienced director, it is considerably better than nothing at all.

PSP has never tried following a Union II match on Twitter except after the fact to confirm specific details, e.g., goal replay videos.

Scorecard information

Today the internet replaces printed scorecards.

While MLS NEXT Pro and its clubs are still scrambling, the only scorecard information observers seem certain to get is player names.

Uniform numbers, precise positions, and formations are chancier. PSP discovers them as follows.

  • Search each parent club’s website, carefully. There does not yet seem to be a universally followed template for websites.
  • Search each team on Wikipedia and look for rosters within the general article, but expect quality of results to vary in detail and reliability.
  • An hour before tap-off, search Twitter because at that point the public is mandated to be able to find something. But expect delays of as much as half an hour.
  • The video stream provides a quick run-through of lineups and subs for each team at the beginning, but it comes too fast to be written down. It either confirms or tweeks prior research.

To help the searches mentioned above here are the official Eastern Conference Twitter “handles.” The links have been tested for functionality, but there are no guarantees. In 2022’s schedule Union II will never play a western team until the postseason playoff final, so they are not included.

Eastern Conference

Northeast Division

Team

Official Twitter handle
New England Revolution II NERevolution2
New York City FC II NONE YET*
Philadelphia Union II PhilaUnionII
Rochester NY FC rnyfcofficial 
Toronto FC II TorontoFCII

Central Division

FC Cincinnati 2 FCCincinnati2
Chicago Fire 2 ChicagoFireNext
Columbus Crew 2 ColumbusCrew2
Inter Miami CF II InterMiamiCFII
Orlando City B OrlandoCityB

*For NYC FC II the best sources we have are Wikipedia — which proved reliable — and the website.

Use multiple devices

If possible watch the video stream on a device with a larger screen and use your phone to monitor the print feed on MLS NEXT Pro’s website. (If you have a third, find the appropriate location on Twitter and refresh it periodically.)

MLS NEXT Pro’s website has “Schedule” as its first drop-down menu. Schedule is sorted by a date range button which allows navigation to the desired match if it’s not in the currently displayed week.

Once the target match is found, click it open, and five drop-down menu buttons become available for selection: Summary, Feed, Lineups, Stats, and Video.

“Feed” will give you the most information about match events, slightly after they have happened. It augments the limitations of the commentator, and gives some idea what is happening if the video or audio cuts out.

If box score information needs verification after the fact, “Schedule” and its follow-on components are useful,  as are the news menus of the respective teams.

Consult as many sources as possible. League personnel are new to keyboarding matches as they happen, and are learning their trade. To illustrate, in the first Union II – Miami II match “Stats” omitted the U II yellow card, and also the corner kick at the end of the first half on which U II scored. There have been similar errors subsequently.

Recommendations

If time and inclination permit, make a lineup card in advance for each team for reference during the match, — uniform number, last name, and likely position.

A team shape diagram with starters’ numbers distributed into expected positions can be most helpful, especially for the team less familiar. Often a player’s identity must be guessed from where he is playing, what he is doing, and his visually available characteristics.

 “Lineups” does give shapes, but has sometimes been wrong.

As regards Union II, “Lineups” does not differentiate between the 4-4-2 “narrow diamond” and the 4-4-2 “empty bucket.” If a team is playing four or more horizontal lines of field players, “Lineups” may or may not disclose the fact. It never does is the number of lines is five.

Be patient with Spiideo. ESPN+ had similar problems when they began streaming USL championship matches, and time allowed them to improve. MLS NEXT Pro has never announced a video rights contract, so they are paying Spiideo not vice versa. Their thrifty use of the free level of service is understandable, perhaps a test arrangement for both parties with an eye to a contract for an upgrade next season.

2 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    This was great for the first half tonight but unfortunately the live stream doesn’t seem to be working for the second half and I missed Pierre’s second goal. (I have 2 devices going, but one is watching a hockey game so not following your suggestions completely.)

  2. Tim Jones says:

    I had the same problem, Andy.
    .
    They kept linking me over to the St. Louis-Vancouver stream, on both a laptop and a desktop, so I don’t think it was my error, I think something was wrong at the source.
    .
    Spiideo has plenty of work to do. But they’ll get there eventually.

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