Last week, DSS regrouped with Fox Sports’ Atlanta United reporter and host, Jillian Sakovits. Jillian worked with Dan Gargan, Kevin Egan and the rest of the Fox Sports team to bring Atlanta United broadcasts into your living rooms and bars throughout the season. In addition to Atlanta United, Jillian is a host/reporter for MLS and for the Big Ten Network. You can find her on Twitter @JillianSakovits.
We caught her in the midst of working on a project for MLS Digital’s “Beyond the Stands” series, which highlights philanthropic work done by MLS players around the world.
We also caught her in the midst of — and we swear this is true — delivering kittens she had rescued from her backyard to their new adopted homes.
Hi, Jill! How’s it going?
I’m in a car with three cats right now — like things could get any crazier — if you hear any crying, it’s them...
Since local broadcasts are finished for the year, what are you doing during the playoffs?
So, basically, I’m back with Major League Soccer and they have the digital shows that go on before and after the matches. I’m doing those and I just requested to cover Atlanta United for as far as they go and my wish was granted.
Do you think Atlanta even has a chance against Red Bulls? [Author’s note: This obviously came before Sunday. Let’s call it a reverse jinx. You’re welcome.]
I think this series is going to be a coin toss. I think each team is definitely capable of beating the other. We’ve seen the Red Bulls give Atlanta a hard time this year but I think that any of the Atlanta players would tell you they didn’t bring their best game when they played the Red Bulls.
If Atlanta United runs their best game it’s definitely more than enough to beat the Red Bulls. Their pretty identical teams. The good news is the Red Bulls don’t have a Miguel Almiron. On the flip side, Red Bulls gave up 33 goals in 34 games. Only five teams in MLS have ever given up less than a goal a game.
Any difficulties remaining unbiased because you love Atlanta so much at this point?
Of course they have my heart, but still, if I want to stay assigned to the Eastern Conference then I have to be journalistic and that’s not so hard for you.
The last time we talked was before your first game with the team. What’s it been like to cover the team over the course of the year?
So my expectations were very high, and it far exceeded my expectations. It’s just so fun to be a part of a city and in a city where people want to talk to you about Atlanta United so badly. People really embrace you and say, “Oh, you’re family now!” and they chat with you as if they’re a friend that ran into you at a gas station. That’s definitely unique. That’s not every MLS city that you can walk around and it just feels like there’s a buzz in the air that’s about the soccer team.
The fans have just been great too. Whether it’s been Dan, myself or Kevin, it’s been so fun on our way to the matches to just kind of stroll through The Gulch. That’s definitely been a highlight of mine.
What’s been the response from people in The Gulch and around town to your work with the team?
It’s a very loud welcome. Everyone is so nice and they want you to drink but they’ll also offer you a cheeseburger or a hot dog, lots of scarves, lots of stickers, t-shirts — I have a new Miguel Almiron t-shirt I’m really excited to try on. People really couldn’t be nicer.
You heard about. You hear about how welcoming the city of Atlanta is and the southern hospitality but it’s been really been so unique and incredible and something I’m really excited to be a part of.
The fans will be really great in the stadium and they’ll say, “Oh, Jill, thanks for what you do” and I’m like, “No, thank you for all you do.” If it wasn’t for the fans, if it wasn’t for all the people in Mercedes-Benz, if it wasn’t for all the people watching at home it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting as it is. We’re lucky to cover Atlanta United and the fans are definitely the cherry on top of that entire experience. It’s really like thanks to them...
Again, I apologize for these cats.
Do you have a favorite scarf or shirt or sticker you’ve been given?
No, they’re all equal. But I think what stands out to me is that sometimes it will be a person’s own scarf. It will be a super unique one like a Mercedes-Benz edition scarf or they had these special edition King Peach Footie Mob scarf and it’s that person’s own scarf. I’ll be like “No, no, you keep it” but they want you to have it, they want to spread the culture.
What has it been like to work with Dan and Kevin throughout the year?
A dream. I knew that I was lucky to have two energetic, funny, young guys that I’d be working with that are both so established in their own careers. Kevin at BeIn and Dan having the career that he did and being the OG of the Atlanta broadcasting team. But that even surpassed my expectations. I was on the phone this morning with Kevin and he was making an omelet and I was making my bed. We just talk a lot and we became really good friends.
This get’s thrown around a lot but they really did become like two brothers to me. They have no hesitation in making fun of me for hours and hours and I also don’t mind making fun of them either, but we genuinely balance each other really really well. And that’s what I think has made our broadcast so fun this year. We can have a ton before we go on the show and even have a little fun on set but those two guys, they’ll be critical when they have to be critical, they’ll buckle down, they’ll be the first ones to say “You need to do that better next time,” but they’ll also be the first ones to compliment you.
What’s the easiest thing to make fun of them for?
Probably how much they love the attention from the fans when we’re on the concourse. They get the most amped about it. They’re such hams. They love it. And I do too, but I like to sit back and watch how much they ham it up for the fans, which is also what makes them so great.
And then probably Kevin’s lack of rapper knowledge, or even knowledge of modern music. Kevin...I think Kevin just likes country music —
KEVIN LIKES COUNTRY MUSIC?
Yeah. Kevin likes country music. It’s really weird.
Dan is a little more up on things. It can be kind of fun to watch Kevin keep up. In Toronto —you know how Drake says “Runnin’ through The Six?” Kevin said “Running riot through The Six” after a goal and we were like, “That’s...that’s not it Kev.”
But to Kev’s credit — and I’m only ratting on him because he went on a podcast and said that I had the worst Uber rating of the three — he said that because he loves to get really good calls in for his goals calls and that’s because he’s so fantastic at his job.
Has there anything that surprised you about being with Atlanta?
I think the surprise would be — and Kevin and I were talking about this a little this morning — is how many people we run into outside of Atlanta that will know what we do. I don’t feel like all MLS clubs have people that are that aware of them. I will run into someone who covers basketball in another city and they know what we’re doing and what’s going on in Atlanta. Or I’ll talk to a family friend in Germany and they’ll have heard of what’s go on in Atlanta.
I’ll be at Knicks practice and someone will say “Well Atlanta United is doing this” and that person couldn’t even tell you where the Red Bulls play. It’s really just a phenomenon throughout sports and culture in general.
What have your interactions been with like the players and the front office?
They’re lovely. I think that you can tell that the front office and players are extensions of the fan base. They’re all genuine fans themselves. They hang out together outside of work. I think the video team in Atlanta just had a “Friendsgiving” together. They’re a lot like the fan base and when I interviewed Darren Eales at the All-Star Game he said that was part of their criteria. Players that we bring in, whether it’s Josef from Venezuela or Kevin Kratz from Germany, whoever we were bringing in, outside of what they do on the field, it was important for the front office, to Darren, to Carlos Bocanegra, that they understood they also had a responsibility to be a part of the Atlanta community. You only want people that want that responsibility and that’s the players they’ve brought in. You can tell.
It’s hard enough to build a roster period. To build a roster of the type of people you want culturally as well is really incredible.
Any plans to be back next year?
We’re working on that. That is a conversation that we’ll all have in the offseason. The people that make those decisions are worried about the team right now. There’s no place I’d rather be more, but that’s a conversation we’ll have after MLS Cup.