American soccer has its own version of Bill Raftery: GolTV analyst Ray Hudson. Going all the way back to his playing days in the 1970s with the NASL's Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Hudson has always been full of great quotes and one-liners.
The native of Gateshead, England first made a name for himself in the modern era when he became the head coach of Major League Soccer's now-defunct Miami Fusion in 2000. He then moved to D.C. United in 2002, and in that same summer worked as a studio analyst on ESPN's World Cup coverage.
Although Hudson's time in D.C. did not go well, it was clear to everyone who covered his games that he would soon be a regular on television. After United sacked him in 2004, Hudson moved back to South Florida and joined Miami-based GolTV as a color analyst.
Hudson has been at GolTV ever since, and in this era of YouTube and Twitter he has become quite a celebrity in American soccer circles. There is even a Twitter account, Live Ray Hudson, that is dedicated solely to transcribing his one-liners in real time during games.
Because GolTV has the English-language TV rights to Spanish soccer in the United States, Hudson has been at the mic multiple times in recent years for one of the biggest rivalry games in the world: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. Hudson called this past Saturday's league game between the two sides, and he will call the rematch in the Copa del Rey final this afternoon.
The two Spanish giants are playing a total of four times in an 18-day stretch. After the league match and the cup final, they will meet again in the Champions League semifinals - on April 27 at Madrid's Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, and on May 3 at Barcelona's Camp Nou.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Hudson. It was a lot of fun, which is no surprise, but I wasn't sure going into it whether Hudson would be the same off-camera as he is on-camera. Even though we just talked on the phone, there were plenty of rhetorical flourishes in his remarks.
We discussed not just Barça and Real, but also his views on American soccer and his life as a quasi-celebrity among American soccer fans.
The interview ended up being fairly long, so I decided to split it in two parts. The first is about Barcelona and Real Madrid, and you can read it below. The second is about all the other subjects we discussed, and you can read it by clicking here.
First of all, what did you think of the 1-1 draw between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Bernabéu this past Saturday? It didn't seem to be as entertaining as the game between the two teams at Camp Nou earlier this season.
Yeah, absolutely. It was a different sort of game for a Clásico, for sure. And I think, because of the way fate played its hand - with three other games behind what was supposed to be the final Clásico - that really lent a whole different complexion to it, in terms of the strategies and tactics that both coaches were really forced to adopt.
It was, I would say, a little bit more of a flat game than what we've seen in years gone by - and it was still a totally absorbing, intriguing game, with real high quality. But because of the massive lead Barcelona have got [in La Liga], and because Real Madrid are looking at Wednesday's game as their best chance, I think of winning a big trophy, that was always going to cast one or two different lights on the proceedings.
And that's the way it turned out. But it was still a thoroughly enjoyable game for me.
Do you think that the Copa del Rey final is the game that Real Madrid really want to win the most, or is it just the one they are most likely to win?
I think it's probably the one they are most likely to win, given the challenges of the Champions League. Given the fact that they haven't beaten Barcelona for such a long time, and there's other teams to be met and beaten in the Champions League final if they do get there. That's a huge task for a team that's just basically been rebuilt in the last year or so.
The game on Wednesday is a one-off situation on a neutral ground. I think Real Madrid's confidence may have been boosted by their performance on Saturday against Barcelona. Strangely enough, the way this guy [José] Mourinho plays his hand so cleverly, and manipulates the press so amazingly, and puts all sorts of different pressures on the opponent and the referees, there's a lot to be fed into that pot on Wednesday.
But I think overall, the league looks like it's well beyond them now. The Champions League is a real Mount Everest for them - that they could conquer, no question, they could. But the game on Wednesday is the one where it's all there for them to go and claim the prize, if they're good enough in a one-off situation. So that, to me, is definitely the clearest opportunity for getting a cup.
How much of a different dynamic do you think there will be with the game being played on a neutral field, at Valencia's Mestalla Stadium? Usually when these teams meet, it's on one or the other's home turf. This time, there will be fans of both teams in the stands - even though the culture of traveling support isn't the same in Spain as it is in England, for example.
For sure. This is a ground that Barcelona played so tremendously well on, the Mestalla, they were wonderful in the game against Valencia [on March 2]. I remember the game distinctly - it ended up 1-0 and it should have been more. Barcelona really revel on that pitch.
Having said that, it is supposedly a neutral venue. Real Madrid couldn't beat Barcelona in front of their own fanatical fans in a wonderful atmosphere. That lent nothing to the proceedings. It was typical Barcelona - virtually 75 percent possession, and it was even higher in the first 20 minutes - more like 80 percent.
So they know how to take the seat out of an atmosphere, and people don't give them enough credit. That place was just vibrating ahead of the game. The Madrid fans were unaware that it was a tactical situation for their team, they just wanted Barcelona's blood. They were fired up like never before, and it meant nothing.
So I don't think the atmosphere will bother Barcelona at all, and I'm not sure it will lend anything to Real Madrid. Because I don't think it's going to be as white-hot as it was in the Bernabéu at the weekend. So that part of it, I think, will be of no consequence to the proceedings.
It's going to come down to the players, which it thankfully always should - and I think it will happen again. Mourinho played his tactical hand this past Saturday, and you've got to be honest and say that they were fortunate to get the point in the end. Mourinho was belly-aching about the sending off and the rest of it, but it's just gossip afterward.