Soccer newsletter: Galaxy’s Joe Tutino extends tradition of elite SoCal radio voices
Hello and welcome to the L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer writer, and we start today with Joe Tutino. And if your response to that is “Joe who?,” then wait until you find out what you’ve been missing!
Tutino is the play-by-play voice of the Galaxy and has been with the team since the franchise’s start in 1996. But he hasn’t just outlasted players, coaches, general managers and ticket-sellers. He’s outlasted many of his peers in radio and television.
When Jaime Jarrín retires next year as the Spanish-language radio voice of the Dodgers, Tutino will become the dean of Southern California sports broadcasters, the lone survivor of a Hall of Fame lineup that included – at the same time – Chick Hearn and Ralph Lawler in basketball, Vin Scully and Jarrín in baseball, Bob Miller in hockey and Tom Kelly on boxing and USC football.
“I will never say that I’m on that level. But you have to try to bring a broadcast that is delivered in that way,” Tutino said. “They were there such a long time because they are the greatest of the greats.
“Because when you’re not, you’re gone. Los Angeles is that way.”
Tutino won’t say it, but the fact he’s still there after 26 years is evidence he has earned his place in that lineup. But don’t take my word for that. Listen to Tutino and partner Cobi Jones on satellite radio, then sample other MLS broadcasts on Sirius/XM. The difference is obvious.
Tutino has had the good fortune to broadcast for winning teams throughout his career, which not only increases the audience but also makes the games easier to call.
“When a team is doing well, there’s so many great stories to talk about,” he said. “Everybody’s happy. You’re in rhythm because everything that you see, that you play in your head, is happening. They make you a better broadcaster.”
But not a fan. Miller, who was hired by Hearn to do Kings games for 44 seasons, said the one piece of advice he was given was not to mimic the rah-rah broadcasters he had listened to growing up in Chicago.
“There are so many people in this market from other areas of the country who still have allegiance to the teams that they grew up cheering for,” Miller remembers Hearn telling him. “We can’t be homers, we can’t be cheerleaders on the air.”
Tutino has followed that advice, so even if you don’t like the Galaxy his calls are comfortable ones.
“If I say ‘we’ ever, I apologize,” said Tutino, who is paid by Spectrum for locally televised games and by the Galaxy for the others. “I’m their announcer and they are the players. They have to perform, and the fans need an objective commentary of the game.”
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Tutino followed the rest of the market in other ways, too. His calls with Jones, a Hall of Fame player who has been the Galaxy’s lead analyst since 2012, have the same relaxed feel Scully and Jarrín perfected, making them less a broadcast and more a conversation between friends.
Also like Scully, Tutino doesn’t feel the need to fill every second with commentary. His pauses allow listeners to understand what they’ve heard, a skill few other broadcasters have perfected.
“I just think it came natural for me,” he said. “When I was a fan watching the game, I would cheer my team and I would critique my team at the same time. I never got uncomfortable with the microphone professionally to a point where that changed me. And I understand as a broadcaster, you can only say what you can say.
“So under those terms, I am still the same person that was on the couch watching the game.”
Tutino, 51, grew up watching games in an immigrant household in San Diego where Italian, not English, was spoken. In fact his mother, who has been in the U.S. 59 years, still doesn’t understand English well enough to listen to her son work – although she does watch the games and critique the team’s play and her son’s wardrobe.
“Soccer was my Little League,” Tutino said. “Growing up in an Italian family, we always had a soccer ball around.
“It’s more a thing that is culturally ingrained in us.”
His cousins eventually moved on to other sports – one was good enough at baseball to be drafted twice – but not Tutino.
“Soccer was my thing,” he said. “And I was good at it.”
Not good enough to make a career of it though, so he quickly found another way to be close to the game and get paid for it: sports writing.
“It was my sophomore year and I was in history class. And I got this epiphany,” Tutino remembered. “So I went in to see my counselor and I said, ‘I know what I want to do. I want to be put in the journalism class, because I believe I’m going to be a sportswriter.’ And it became a passion.”
It was one he embraced shortly after high school, when he became a 19-year-old morning news producer with a San Diego news-talk station that quickly switched to an all-sports format. That change was a huge ratings winner and because the massive antenna in northern Mexico was so powerful, the station dominated in Los Angeles, too.
Tutino soon became the original producer of the Jim Rome Show, which led to the launch of a 30-station network. And as a producer, he did 13 Super Bowls, put together Padres and Chargers broadcasts and partnered with Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn on a regular baseball show.
But none of that was why he went into radio.
“I got into radio because I wanted to do play-by-play,” he said. “I wanted to do soccer play-by-play.”
Because there was no first-division league in the U.S. he started calling games for the Anaheim Splash, a little-remembered indoor soccer team, and that led to an opportunity to do Serie A games and the Coppa Italia for Fox Sports.
The Galaxy proved a tougher nut to crack since the team had no English-language radio coverage and did less than a dozen games on local TV in their first season. Tutino was the public-address announcer for the first game, then co-hosted a Galaxy-themed talk show on Xtra Sports 690 before becoming the regular play-by-play voice, doing 10 games on TV and radio, in 1999.
Three of the other local L.A. teams had broadcasters already in their respective sports Halls of Fame then – and two others had ones on their way. Only Jarrín is still there and when he leaves next fall, that legacy will pass to Tutino.
“It’s not intimidating, but I’m aware of it,” he said. “I think that also helped me to bring the type of broadcast that I think L.A. and Galaxy fans expect. You need to be of that level.”
Galaxy’s playoff hopes get a boost
Speaking of the Galaxy, midfielder Sacha Kljestan never soured on the team’s playoff chances, even during a nine-game winless streak which ended Saturday when his penalty kick in stoppage time delivered a 2-1 win over the Portland Timbers.
That’s partly because he’s seen how quickly reports of a team’s demise can be proven exaggerated.
In Kljestan’s penultimate season with Belgian club Anderlecht, the team sacked manager John van den Brom with one game left in the regular season, then lost its playoff opener under his replacement. The team appeared to have so little chance of rebounding, a local newspaper ran a bold headline that promised Anderlecht would not win the league title.
“I took the front page of the newspaper and I hung it up in my locker because I thought, ‘I believe we still have a chance.’ And I hope that everybody else in the locker room sees this every day to know that we still have a chance,” Kljestan remembered.
Anderlecht won its final five playoff games to clinch its third consecutive league title. So even though the Galaxy (12-11-6) remain sixth in the 13-team Western Conference table, just one point above the line to qualify for the postseason, Kljestan said the team is in good position with five regular-season games remaining.
“I’m not worried,” he said. “I’ve been through this before. It takes a good run of form, it takes one big game, it takes one big play to change the outcome and change the feeling within the team.”
That big play Saturday came in stoppage time when Efraín Álvarez was taken down in the penalty area by Portland defender Josecarlos Van Rankin, drawing a foul. Kljestan, who said he always decides on the morning of games where he’s going to shoot if he gets a penalty, then buried the shot just inside the post for his fourth goal of the season.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernández had the team’s other goal, his 13th of the season, early in the second half. The Galaxy will try to continue their playoff push Wednesday at Houston.
Arango keeping LAFC in playoff contention
In LAFC rallies to a postseason berth, the team should give two playoff shares to forward Cristian Arango because it’s unlikely they would have a chance of getting there without him.
The 26-year-old Colombian, who answers to the nickname Chicho, has made 12 starts since joining MLS in August and the team has earned points in nine of them. In the six games in which Arango scored, LAFC is 4-1-1, capped by a two-goal performance in last Saturday’s 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
With the win, the first in a month, LAFC (10-12-7) is two spots and four points out of the seventh and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, also with five games left in the regular season.
“Chicho has a real presence on the field,” coach Bob Bradley said. “He’s starting to understand better some of our ideas. The way he carries himself, his ability to go by people in key moments, score goals, yeah, he’s been excellent.”
Especially Saturday, in a game LAFC couldn’t afford to lose. A Danny Musovski goal off a back-heel pass from Arango put LAFC ahead to stay in the third minute. The assist was the first in MLS for Arango, who doubled the lead on a penalty kick in the 28th minute, his fourth score from the spot this year.
After Carlos Fierro halved the deficit for San Jose in the 61st minute, Arango put the game away with team-high eighth goal of the season with two minutes left in regulation.
“The attitude we presented tonight was fundamental to getting a result,” Arango said through an interpreter. “Hopefully we can continue on this path.”
Arango said he’s comfortable as a team leader during the injury absences of Carlos Vela and Eduard Atuesta. But it’s also a status that typicallybelongs to players who have been with the team longer than two months.
“I definitely appreciate those who consider me a leader,” he said.
After playing in front of announced sellouts of more than 22,000 for its first 56 regular-seasons games, Banc of California Stadium was about half full Saturday because of new COVID-19 regulations requiring proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test, toasty 90-degree temperatures for the mid-day start and the team’s recent struggles. LAFC, however, once again put attendance at more than 22,000, based on tickets distributed.
LAFC plays Wednesday at FC Dallas.
Young U.S. coming of age in qualifying
Tim Weah knew his night was over when he looked at the sideline and saw teammate Matthew Hoppe standing next to the fourth official and preparing to be subbed into last Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier with Costa Rica.
Weah, who found out he was starting just five minutes before kickoff, had had a productive night, but with the score tied late in the second half he felt his work wasn’t done. So with only a few moments left to leave his mark on the match, he put a hard, right-footed shot on target that went through back-up goalkeeper Leonel Moreira for an own goal that gave the U.S. a 2-1 win.
“I kind of had the idea that I was going to get subbed out, but my goal was just to stay focused until then,” Weah said. “It just so happened that the ball came out wide and I saw the run and I just hit it and it happened to go in.
“It’s just being focused in those moments.”
Weah was on the field only because Paul Arriola, the expected starter, was scratched after sustaining a groin injury during warm-ups. That left the U.S. with the youngest lineup for a qualifier in national team history, one that averaged just 22 years of age.
And 65 seconds after the opening kickoff it trailed 1-0. But the U.S. played with poise and confidence after that and rallied to beat a veteran Costa Rican team whose players were an average of eight years older.
The U.S. has seen 25 players make their qualifying debuts in the first six games of the CONCACAF tournament. Costa Rica started seven who were in the World Cup three years ago.
“That’s basically unheard of in international football,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said of his team’s youth. “If you go look at the Germanys, France, Brazil, they’re basically playing 28-year-old, 29-year-old teams. For us to be navigating through this CONCACAF qualifying — which is a bear, a monster — with this group, and the amount of poise they showed on the field, I’m proud of the effort.
“They’re growing as a team.”
That’s good because the U.S. (3-1-2) will face a big test to start the November qualifying window when Mexico, the only team the Americans trail in the tournament standings, comes to Cincinnati.
Berhalter’s young team stumbled at the start of qualifying, when it scored just once in draws with El Salvador and Canada and fell behind Honduras 1-0 in the first half of the third game. Since then, the U.S. has gone 3-1-0 and outscored opponents 8-1. None of the seven other teams in the tournament has scored more over that span and the U.S. has done that while getting just 28 minutes from Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, the team’s top offensive threats, during that span.
Both players remain uncertain for the Mexico game and there are other questions as well. Berhalter’s decision to bench Matt Turner after five qualifiers for Zack Steffen opened the door to a ’keeper controversy. And the U.S. team’s once-formidable depth on the back line has thinned, which greatly impacts Berhalter’s preferred style of play.
“Everyone on this team expects that they can be playing and expects that they can be starting,” Berhalter said. “The guys aren’t here to be passengers. We make that loud and clear.”
CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table
Country Pts. W-L-T
Mexico 14 4-0-2
U.S. 11 3-1-2
Canada 10 2-0-4
Panama 8 2-2-2
Costa Rica 6 1-2-3
Jamaica 5 1-3-2
El Salvador 5 1-3-2
Honduras 3 0-3-3
Mexico vs. U.S. in Cincinnati
Panama at Honduras
Jamaica at El Salvador
Costa Rica at Canada
U.S. vs. Jamaica in Kingston, Jamaica
Honduras at Costa Rica
El Salvador at Panama
Mexico at Canada
And finally there’s this …
Among the names appearing on the ballot for the National Soccer Hall of Fame are Clint Dempsey, who shares the all-time national team record of 57 goals, and former Galaxy captain Robbie Keane, a three-time MLS Cup winner and former league MVP. The eligibility list also includes 16 finalists who return from the 2021 ballot, among them women’s national team stars Hope Solo, Shannon Boxx and Heather Mitts, former Galaxy players David Beckham and Kevin Hartman and former MLS player and coach Thierry Henry … Honduras fired Uruguayan coach Fabian Coito after last Wednesday’s 2-0 home loss to Jamaica, which dropped the Catachos to last in the CONCACAF tournament. Through six games Honduras has just three points from ties with Canada, El Salvador and Costa Rica. Honduras went 2-8-6 in the last year under Coito, 54 … Three of the four Central American countries participating in World Cup qualifying have been sanctioned by FIFA for unruly fan behavior. FIFA ordered San Salvador’s Estadio Cuscatlán closed for the Nov. 12 match with Jamaica and fined the federation after fans entered the pitch and used laser pointers during the Sept. 2 game with the U.S. The north and south stands at San Pedro Sula’s Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano will reportedly be closed for Honduras’ Nov. 12 match with Panama as punishment for homophobic chants during the Sept. 8 game with the U.S. The federation has also been fined. And Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernández will be closed to fans for the Nov. 16 match with El Salvador after fans used homophobic chants in two September qualifiers. Panama’s federation was fined as well. FIFA is continuing to investigate incidents that took place during two October qualifiers in Honduras and further punishment could be coming.
“World Cup qualifying is difficult. Sometimes I feel like people forget that. People thinks it’s a cakewalk. We’re going to play the youngest team in the history of U.S. Soccer and we’re just going to breeze through these games? It’s not realistic. What I will say is that the guys fight, and the guys give everything. That’s all you can ask.”
Gregg Berhalter on the criticism his young national team has faced through the first six games of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying