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Talking with Joe Tolleson, NYCFC’s play-by-play man on YES

We caught up with the prolific commentator ahead of tonight’s showdown with Minnesota.

Tolleson (left) with Ian Joy
E.H. Wallop/YES Network

When New York City FC started up in earnest, just about every one of us in the ol’ MediaSphere was in the same boat: that is, making everything up as we went along. Everything was new: the organization, the players, the stadium, supporters, the parlance, you name it.

But one gent had no need to make everything up on the fly— YES television commentator and Sirius radio host Joe Tolleson, a man that insiders would justly (and unanimously) determine to be a Total Pro. Ahead of Thursday’s NYCFC-Minnesota showdown, we spoke with Joe over the phone on Wednesday, and are proud to share the highlights of our conversation, edited only for length.

ON HIS PATH TO NYCFC

“I guess I have a little different perspective because I was the original TV voice of the MetroStars when they started in 1996. So to me, [NYCFC] was kind of, 20 years on, a similar experience. A little bit different, because when I started with the MetroStars it was all handled by the team, and I was technically a team employee back then, whereas here it was all directly related to the [YES] network.

To bring Ian [Joy] in, I think what was refreshing there, when Ian and I finally met met we pretty much clicked right away. We basically got together probably two weeks before the season started. I knew of him, but we never really had sat down and spoken face to face until then. It just kind of clicked.”

It's nice to get into a situation where you know who your broadcast partner is gonna be week in week out, and you kind of have a common goal of what you're gonna do. I think its worked out really well with Ian and I.”

ON THE GLORIOUS IMPACT OF DAVID VILLA

“I think when you first got a chance to see David Villa, you realized his work ethic. For a guy who's 35 years old, I don't think you have a player here that's ever gonna be outworked, and that kind of rubs off on the younger players. To have a guy like David Villa around to show younger players, ‘this is how you approach it,’ I think that's been invaluable, and maybe something fans don’t get to see day-in and day-out.

There's a lot of different layers to the impact of a player and how the league grows, but for Villa, strictly on the field, it’s encouraging that he's signed at least another extension. We can look and say, hey, he's 35, but I think a lot of people agree he doesn't play as though hes 35. He has a few more years left in him in that regard. So it could be interesting to see what he ends up when all is said and done.

As much as you look at the individual things he’s done, leading the team in scoring, winning the MLS MVP, you look at all these honors and achievements he can accomplish, he will still tell you that the ultimate goal is [that] he wants to win a championship with this team.

It’s about making the entire team better, and how does the team work together and win a championship. And I think if you talk to him, he'll say he'd trade the individual stuff to win a championship. That's just his mentality.”

ON MINNESOTA UNITED AS A “TRAP GAME”

“This isn't one of those days where you have to play 3 games in 7 days or something. If I’m Patrick Vieira, I’m stressing how important Thursday's game is, and on Friday i'm stressing how important Wednesday's game is against Vancouver. Because you wanna go into that two week break with a pretty good feeling about where you’re going with this team.”

ON THE EMERGENCE OF YANGEL HERRERA

“In general, I'm always amazed when you look of where you can go and find quality players in this game. They find Yangel Herrera— part of that is the relationship that you have with Manchester City. You have the benefit of that kind of scouting network. I'll be the first person to admit, I had not heard of Alex Ring until they signed him. But you see what a player like that brings to the team and you just say, man, there's just good players all over the place.

I think its interesting to see how you look at a player compared to the hundreds of others you could be looking at and say, this is how we think this guy can work. I'm a firm believer in the adage, “the ball has no idea how old you are.”

One of the best things that I think could have happened to Yangel Herrera this year is the run that Venzuela made in the U20 World Cup and the experience he got there. To come back to New York City riding that wave of confidence is something that I think the club has benefited from.

It’s been interesting to watch him work, because what I like if you have those three [midfield] players – [Maxi] Moralez, Ring, and Herrera – they can move the ball quickly. Think ahead. When you want to get the ball up the field, you know those guys can do it. And that’s been neat to watch, and I think when you can do that, and combine with guys like Villa and [Jack] Harrison up front, its just a great thing all around.”

ON TROLLING IAN JOY WITH SUGARY TREATS IN THE BROADCAST BOOTH

“The key to the whole thing is to make sure that you put it in his spot when he is not in the room.

Some days, the cookie may just sit there. Other days, when nobody else is looking, Ian somehow makes it disappear.”


Many thanks to the whole team at YES! You can watch Joe and Ian lay it down from the booth tonight at 7:30pm when NYCFC takes on Minnesota United. In-market subscribers can also stream the YES broadcast live on Fox Sports Go.