ABC and ESPN have covered each of the last four World Cups, but due to a surge in soccer popularity here in the USA and the increased ratings ESPN has enjoyed for European Champions League matches the last few years, the Disney Networks put more time and resources into covering Germany 2006 than any previous soccer related event on the networks. Out were such lightweights as studio host Rob Stone (moved to 5th team play by play), Paul Caligiuri, Jack Edwards and Ty Keough. They were replaced by Brent Musberger who did some work during the 1998 World Cup, Rece Davis, Eric Wynalda and John Harkes who was far from my favorite player back in the day but proved to be a very solid color commentator.
Musburger often frustrates with his play by play during College Football and College Basketball since he seems to over dramatize every play in every game. But Musberger, who was a first class studio host in a past life with CBS was in his element during the entire month of this World Cup. The World Cup is a big deal and we should all be thankful ABC picked a studio host that placed the event in its proper worldwide perspective, and did not dumb down the broadcast by trying to translate soccer to American fans with needless comparisons to American sports. Musburger, who normally does not call soccer clearly did his homework before the World Cup began and he was actually able to contribute to the commentary and throw in some impromptu observations and historical facts of his own. Musburger’s on the scene reporting from Germany during the last week of the World Cup, and his earlier special features were reminiscent of the job the great Jim McKay used to do during the Olympics for ABC Sports. Musberger will be 71 at the time of the next World Cup, but hopefully he will still be ABC’s go to announcer for international sporting events. Musberger is to ABC’s World Cup coverage what McKay was to the Olympic coverage on the network. (which makes sense considering a past ABC Sports president stated that the World Cup is now essentially ABC’s Olympics)
Foudy has more knowledge of the players and leagues around the globe than any other commentator on ESPN or ABC. Foudy’s style however is very dry and quite frankly she doesn’t want to criticize players or coaches too often. Despite her wealth of knowledge she states the obvious much too often, and seems reluctant to say anything that may add color to the broadcast.
Wynalda is well spoken and very passionate. While I generally like Wynalda’s commentary (see the earlier column Waldo’s World on this site) he seems to have too many axes to grind with specific individuals in US Soccer (ie. Bruce Arena, Claudio Reyna) to be truly objective. Moreover, he doesn’t know a great deal about international leagues and players and seemed to be learning about the other 31 nations competing in Germany on the fly during the World Cup. Wynalda is entertaining but needs to prepare more for future telecasts involving international sides other than the United States. To think the jack of all sports studio host (Musberger) seemed to have more knowledge of the players and teams competing towards the end of event is just pathetic.