Jim Williams: NBCSN's Thaler ready to start MLS season

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Sports,Jim Williams

The 2013 Major League Soccer season gets under way this weekend, and there will be plenty of national and local television coverage of North America's top soccer outlet. A combination of NBC Sports Network, NBC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, Univision, UniMas and Comcast SportsNet will televise all 323 matches live, including 87 nationally.

For Russ Thaler, a CSN Washington alum, begins his second year as the host of NBC Sports Group's MLS coverage. He will be joined by Arlo White (play-by-play) and Kyle Martino ("Between the Benches" analyst) for the 41 telecasts this season on NBCSN and NBC.

NBCSN will open its 2013 MLS coverage Saturday night with D.C. United in Houston facing the Dynamo in a rematch of the 2012 Eastern Conference final. Thaler recently spoke about the upcoming MLS season and NBCSN's coverage.

What are the key storylines for the 2013 MLS season?

Thaler »

"I think that it starts with the two-time defending MLS champions, the Los Angeles Galaxy. Gone is David Beckham, who is now playing in France for Paris Saint-Germain, and then there is Landon Donovan, who has taken some time off from the team but is expected back in April. That gives teams like Houston, who has lost to L.A. in the finals, hope that this is their year. But there are at least half a dozen teams, including D.C. United, with a chance at claiming the MLS Cup."

What about the quality of play in MLS?

Thaler » "It is not as good as the top European Leagues, but it remains a very high level of soccer, and it continues to get better each year. There may not be a league in the world with better balance than the MLS. The competition in this league from top to bottom is intense, and there are no easy games. We are also seeing expansion paying off with Montreal, Portland, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver all with large, passionate fan bases strengthening the league. As we know with D.C. United and MLS fans in general throughout the league, soccer fans are loyal."

How about NBC Sports Network's soccer portfolio?

Thaler » "In August we will be adding the ... Premier League to our soccer coverage, and that will only help the MLS and the network as we want to be the fans' home to soccer in North America."

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @wordmandc.

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Jim Williams

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The Washington Examiner