Marisa Pilla grew up watching Italian soccer games on TV in Bucks County with her late father, an Inter Milan fan who emigrated to the United States in the 1970s. She knew as early as high school that she wanted to get into sports broadcasting.
Now, after three years as the Union’s pregame and halftime host, plus work as a sideline reporter in the Big East and Ivy League, Pilla has become the latest Philadelphia-area native to make it big in sports broadcasting.
The Council Rock South product has been hired by Fox Sports 1 to be a sideline reporter at some MLS games this season, and this month was picked by the National Women's Soccer League to be the lead sideline reporter for ESPN's 14-game slate of national broadcasts.
Pilla’s career started in Washington after she graduated from the University of Maryland in 2013. She worked in a variety of roles at Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, now known as NBC Sports Washington, and got the chance to come home in early 2016.
“I was looking to make a move to a bigger job, and I found this opportunity with the Union, and I thought, ‘Hey, I might as well just apply, I could move home,’” she said. “Things really worked out, because not only am I back home, but I’m covering a sport I really love, and it’s given me a lot of other opportunities.”
Her national breakthrough came with backing from colleagues including JP Dellacamera, the Hall of Fame Union play-by-play announcer and voice of Fox’s U.S. women’s national team coverage. Dellacamera helped connect Pilla with Fox’s lead soccer producer, Shaw Brown.
"JP really has just been somebody that you can always go to when you have a question or really just need a little bit of guidance, because he's seen so much," Pilla said.
Pilla's MLS debut came in early April. She has done two games so far, and has two games left this year.
She got on the NWSL’s radar through Michael Cohen, the executive producer of national broadcasts at the league’s former TV partner, A+E Networks. Cohen asked if she’d like to host the live stream of the 2018 draft that was held in Philadelphia. He remained with the NWSL after the league’s split from A+E earlier this year, helping hire the talent for the league’s post-World Cup deal with ESPN.
Pilla has been a women’s soccer fan ever since she was a kid, one of millions across the country captivated by the U.S. national team’s 1999 World Cup triumph.
“Anything I could find from a magazine with Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain, it was being ripped out and [put] on my wall,” she said.
Pilla recalled going to a game of the former Philadelphia Charge at Villanova Stadium in the early 2000s, against a Washington Freedom team led by Hamm and Abby Wambach. Pilla's father told her to watch Wambach, who at that point was just starting to become a star, but Pilla couldn't take her eyes off her idol.
“My dad kept saying, ‘Watch her, watch that Abby girl — she’s very, very good,’” Pilla said. “But in my mind, I was like, ‘Well, Mia Hamm’s here!’ That’s all I cared about.”
She admits now that her father had a point.
These days, Pilla gets to tell the stories of a new generation of U.S. stars. On Sunday, she’ll be in suburban Chicago for ESPN2′s broadcast of the host Red Stars vs. the North Carolina Courage, a game that features eight U.S. World Cup players including Chicago’s Julie Ertz and North Carolina’s Samantha Mewis.
"I'm so excited to see the momentum that the league and [its] coverage has right now, and to be a part of that," she said.
Pilla is also excited to be part of a Union season that has the team in first place two-thirds of the way through the campaign.
“There’s games where you watch them and think they are the best team in the East,” she said. “You can see them become that team where even if they’re down on the road, they can get a point, they can get a win out of that.”