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Fox Sports ready for its first MLS Cup final

To get the inside details on how Fox will present Saturday's MLS Cup final, I talked to Shaw Brown, the network's producer for Major League Soccer coverage. He'll be in the lead chair on Saturday.

If you want to know what's really going on in the soccer TV world, go find the people who run the show.

That's why I turned to Shaw Brown, the lead producer of Fox's Major League Soccer coverage, for details on how the network will present Saturday's MLS Cup final.

Fox's flagship broadcast channel will televise the game, featuring Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders. The pregame show starts at 7:30 p.m., and kickoff at BMO Field is set for 8:15 p.m.

Though Brown is one of the most widely-respected people in the business, he's quite happy to stay out of the limelight. Most MLS fans probably don't know his name. This story is going to change that.

Over the course of a career that spans MLS' entire 21-year history, Brown has worked in a range of roles at Fox, ESPN and NBC - and you won't hear a single bad word about him from anyone at those networks.

In addition to his longtime work on MLS games, he has produced U.S. national team games at home and abroad. He also had key roles in coverage of last year's Women's World Cup and this year's Copa América Centenario.

But he has never been the lead producer of the biggest single game in American club soccer. On Saturday, he'll finally get to do that.

"I've pretty much seen anything that has happened in soccer in this country since 1995, and now I finally get to do a little of it myself," Brown told me. "So I'm pretty excited."

As luck would have it, he got a pretty good game too. Toronto-Seattle will be one of the most star-studded finals in MLS history: TFC's Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley against Seattle's Nicolás Lodeiro and Jordan Morris. And all of them are playing pretty well right now.

"Giovinco, you can argue, is maybe the best signing of all time" in MLS, Brown opined. "Lodeiro is probably the MVP this year if you give him a couple more games [he arrived in late July]. You could have argued that he would be the MVP this year, not just the newcomer of the year."

There will also be a big spotlight on Altidore and Morris, two of the top strikers in the U.S. national team pool right now. Altidore has scored 15 goals in his last 20 MLS games for TFC, along the way becoming the first player to ever score in five straight MLS playoff games. Morris won this year's Rookie of the Year award after a 12-goal debut campaign, then scored a goal in the Western Conference Final that clinched his hometown team's berth in the final.

If only the game was that simple, though.

"You know that it's probably going to be the role player who does something special to win this game," Brown said.

He watched exactly that scenario unfold the last time he was at BMO Field, for Toronto's wild Eastern Conference final win over the Montreal Impact.

"Of all the games I've been involved with in this league... I can't remember - and I've still been searching - a game that had more craziness in it," Brown said. "Whoever wrote that script did an amazing job."

There might not be actual script-writers in MLS (with apologies to the Men in Blazers), but there are plenty of storytellers. Brown works with one of America's best in play-by-play voice John Strong, who is also making his MLS title game debut. The 31-year-old Oregon native will call Saturday's game with analyst Brad Friedel and sideline reporter Julie Stewart-Binks.

"John's amazing - his work ethic is incredible," Brown said. "I know people laugh when they realize how old he is, but [he had] maturity from day one when I got to work with him at NBC, [and] an ability to adapt and learn, because he came from the radio world."

Another voice that Brown has helped develop is Stuart Holden, who has adapted to TV almost seamlessly after a playing career that ended far too soon. Holden will join Alexi Lalas, Eric Wynalda and host Rob Stone on Fox's studio set, which will be located behind the north goal (to the left as you watch on TV).

"As a newly-former player, I think that [Holden] does a great job of saying how it is, but it's not personal," Brown said. "That's the hardest thing for any new announcer. He's got opinions, and he doesn't mind sharing them, which for me as a producer - I want them to be able to have an opinion, back it up, make sure it's not personal, but at the same time, explain and answer the question why."

When I put the word out that I was doing this story, I asked readers what questions they wanted answers. A few asked to hear about how Fox will balance presenting deep tactical analysis and storylines that are easier to understand for casual viewers.

"The technical and tactical stuff, for me, is really important," Brown said. "I'm always trying to teach without talking down when I'm in a TV truck, no matter what the game is... My wife is not a huge soccer fan. If I can explain it to her, then I feel like I can explain it to anybody, and if I can explain it to her and make her feel comfortable with it, then I think I've done my job."

Brown freely admits that he is "tough as a producer." But plenty of the people who work with him will tell you - and have told me often over the years - that's exactly what they want. And Brown, in turn, appreciates their hard work.

"The people who work in soccer on the television side in this country are so dedicated," Brown said. "They love the sport, they're so involved, they always want it to be good, and I'm lucky enough to have an amazing crew this weekend that feels similarly."

What you've read so far is a pretty good summary of what you'll see at home during Fox's broadcast. Now let's go behind the scenes a bit.

There will be 17 cameras rolling Saturday night. Among them will be two cameras in the grass; one camera at each goal; two super-slow-mo replay cameras; a jib camera for those sweeping panoramic shots; and a cable camera above the field.

Brown and director Wayne Wilson will use all of that footage to produce Fox's broadcast feed, which will also serve as the raw feed that is distributed to TV networks across the globe.

(That won't necessarily be the same broadcast you see on UniMás and Canada's TSN, though. Those two networks will bring some of their own cameras in addition to having access to the aforementioned feeds. They will have their own production staffs who can choose from what's available.)

You might have noticed the reference to a cable camera above. That's not something you often see on MLS broadcasts, so I asked Brown about it. And if you've been around the league for long enough, as he and I have... well...

"Are you asking me because once, in a MLS game, it fell?" he replied.

Well, I wasn't quite. But that did happen once upon a time, during a ESPN broadcast of a 2005 Los Angeles Galaxy-Chivas USA game. Some of you out there might remember it. The footage has been lost to history, for better or worse.

More importantly, the technology is much better now than it was 11 years ago, as proven by the use of cable cams during recent major international tournaments.

Anyway: Yes, there will be a cable cam strung to BMO Field's roof. It has actually been there for a while, as part of TSN's Canadian Football League broadcasts. On Saturday, Fox will get to use it.

Brown's crew will also do the best it can to capture the sounds of what should be a wild atmosphere.

"We put out tons of mics, and we do like to push the sound from the fans," Brown said. " I know that John and Brad are great at laying out and giving you the feel for the match. We, like most of what I do, let the match and fans dictate the audio."

For all that will be under Brown's control on Saturday, two major areas will not: the field of play and the sky above it. And if the two don't know each other well already, they're about to.

Toronto expects to receive one to three inches of snow on Friday, and perhaps a bit more Saturday. The game night forecast calls for temperatures in the high 20s. It won't be a problem if you're watching at home, but it might be if you're in the stadium.

Brown has experience with this, too. He was in NBC's production truck for the 2012 New York Red Bulls-D.C. United playoff game at Red Bull Arena that was postponed by a snowstorm that hit when the game was supposed to start. MLS commissioner Don Garber famously joined the grounds crew to help with shoveling, but to no avail.

"As long as the match is played, we're fine," Brown said. "Quite honestly, a game at night looks good on TV to begin with, and it'll look better with snow."

That's not to say he's rooting for bad weather. The only thing he's rooting for is a good game.

And if that's the only thing we get, it should be a great night for everyone involved.

The Twitter handle above is for my general news reporting. My soccer handle is @thegoalkeeper. Contact me there for any questions about this post.