Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Under Further Review No. 9: Dave Zeitlin

In most cases, the fans are the ones consuming the stories about a particular player or team, not having stories written about them. The story of Philadelphia Union fans Eric and Gabe Shertz is not most cases. Dave Zeitlin's story about the two and the impact the family had on the Union, the Sons of Ben and soccer in the are is time well-spent.

Zeitlin covers the MLS and the Union for as well as He took a moment to speak with the SMTSU about what it's like writing a story about fans instead of players, MLS media coverage and how the World Cup could influence the MLS.

On June 2...
Kevin Rossi: I read your piece on Eric Shertz, and I really enjoyed that story. Was it a little different covering a fan's story as opposed to the actual team on the field?
Dave Zeitlin: Yea, it definitely was. It was different in general just doing a long-form feature like that. I'm a beat writer for the team, so I'm kind of on the daily grind of who's hurt, who's playing and that kind of stuff. Just to be able to step out and do that kind of feature is good. In regards to the fans, it's actually kind of different with the Sons of Ben because they existed before the team did, so they have so much invested in the franchise and they're just really well-run. I've done features on them before, and it's just a really interesting group of guys. As you can see from the story, they can really step up and rally around each other when needed.
KR: And the players were aware of this story and went along with it too?
DZ: I was working a lot with the main Union media contact, and I told him what I wanted to do. He had mentioned to me about two weeks before that they wanted to invite Gabe Shertz up to training, and I just thought right away that it would be cool to be out there for that. He asked Gabe right away, he didn't mention it to the players or anything, and I went out to practice about three days before and I spoke with the manager, John Hackworth, told him that I wanted to be there and reassured him that I wouldn't tweet any line-up stuff, just there taking notes. And the players were fine. They don't really care if guys are watching them. You can go to practice. Most guys don't do it. I ended up just watching practice and that was when I met Gabe Shertz and I talked to his mom and his grandfather. Everybody was just great. It was really enjoyable to be there for that.
KR: In terms of the long-form writing, do you see that as an important piece for a beat writer to be working on these sorts of stories behind the scenes to get something different out there on top of the daily stuff?
DZ: I think it's important. I think people like these kinds of stories, and I definitely like writing them. I do some other long-form stuff for magazines, and it's probably my favorite part of writing. I'm not sure how important as compared to 10-20 years ago, now in the whole Twitter Age with people wanting their information in 140 characters or less. I still think there's a place for it, maybe just not quite as much or you have to have the right kind of articles for it. I think this one definitely worked.
KR: When it comes to soccer coverage in U.S. in general -- I know you've done other work, we've covered some college hoops games together -- how is soccer a little bit different from the other sports in your experience as a writer because it is a smaller fanbase for the MLS specifically but very passionate?
DZ: Exactly. It's a small fanbase, but it's a passionate one. When I write an article for, people who are on there just love soccer, so I get tons of comments on the stories on the team. But when I write things for CSN Philly, there's still that backlash of people who are like, 'Who are the Union? Just give me my Eagles OTAs.' It can get kind of frustrating, but that's to be expected, I guess. There's just so much sports in Philadelphia, the Union still have a long way to go to really build into the consciousness of the average sports fan. It probably won't get there completely for while, but it would help if they starting winning some games and maybe a championship. That would go a long way.
KR: Do you see that people's care for the team is tied to the success of international soccer?
DZ: Yea, the World Cup is definitely big. Even non-soccer fans watch the World Cup, especially if the U.S. does well. There's a lot of MLS players on the U.S. team, so if they have good run and people get into it, hopefully they come back and watch them in the MLS. I say that all the time that the MLS is growing. It's fun to cover the league. Every year there's better players, better attendance numbers and, I think, better games. People get tired of hearing that soccer is growing and people always say that, but I really think it's the truth. Definitely in the World Cup year it's been magnified.
KR: I feel like as more of a soccer outsider -- soccer's not necessarily my sport -- in the World Cup years you do get that heightened interest but the MLS needs to find the way to carry it along, and maybe the U.S. success in the World Cup is a piece of that too.
DZ: That will definitely help. As I said, there's a lot of U.S. players who play in the MLS and other national teams too. I think another piece is the MLS is doing really well in terms of attendance. The Union get about 18,000 a game which is about the league average. TV is a big issue right now, it's not close to the Big Four sports in terms of TV revenue. There's a pretty good new TV contract that will definitely help the MLS, but until then, it's not going to be quite on par with the other leagues.
KR: I'm big on the World Cup stuff. I'm one of those fans I suppose where I'll check out the World Cup but I kind of die out after that. I think for me, a lot of it is I don't know the names, so it's hard to follow.
DZ: It's a hard league to follow, but if you go out to PPL Park, it's a beautiful place to watch a game. It's a good gameday atmosphere, and there's definitely a lot of people who go out there for the first time and become hooked. That's one way to get into it.
KR: I do want to check out a game sometime because all soccer fans produce this great atmosphere, and that's something I'd like to experience. I guess it's just one of those things that when it doesn't pop up on ESPN in the morning because we have to argue whether LeBron James is the greatest small forward ever everyday it just never really crosses my path.
DZ: It's definitely hard, and it's frustrating because there are people out there that just don't want to give the MLS a chance. People like you who are open to it but just don't really know how to go about watching, I feel like that could get better with the new TV deal. There's more games on national TV, and there are good players in the league, so you'll have good reason to tune in more.

Thank you to Dave Zeitlin for speaking with us about soccer coverage in the United States. Catch his writing on and on Give him a follow on Twitter as well, @DaveZeitlin.

Under Further Review:
No. 8 - Andrew Albert

No. 7 - Travis Waldron
No. 6 - Patrick Hruby
No. 5 - Greg Hanlon 
No. 4 - Josh Verlin 
No. 3 - Kami Mattioli
No. 2 - Aaron Bracy
No. 1 - Adam Hermann 


Kevin Rossi is a senior Drexel Sport Management major with minors in Communications and Business Administration. Since joining the SMTSU, Kevin has worked his way up the ladder to President. Currently, Kevin is serving as the Sports Information Assistant for Drexel Athletics and  intern at Comcast SportsNet in web production. Kevin has writing experience with, The Triangle, Temple University, and various outlets in a freelance capacity. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Connect with Kevin Rossi on LinkedIn.

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