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.
GRADE: B MINUS
ESPN/ESPN 2 STUDIO
It’s difficult for me to be totally objective because I have been feeling the symptoms of Rece Davis overload for several years now. Davis seems to always be in the studio for ESPN whenever I watch an event on the network. He must work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year! I’m not a fan of Davis’ style but he did a good job keeping dueling analysts from killing one another and did a credible job with several live interviews.
Revsine is the Sportcenter/ESPNEWS host with the most knowledge about international soccer. However his style much like that of Jack Edwards is not appealing and he seems to have a hard time moderating a discussion. Still it is important to have a studio host who has seen all of the players and has a historical perspective on events. Later in the World Cup, Revsine was seen on the air less and less as Rece Davis got the bulk of studio duties on the ESPN networks.
Did a good job analyzing tactics and players but gave little insight not already available on any number of websites in his nightly “World Beat” segment. A solid effort from a soccer front office professional
Lalas did bring color to the ESPN studio but much like Eric Wynalda was too emotional and really didn’t make a whole lot of worthwhile points. Lalas was very much a co-conspirator with Wynalda, and US Soccer to over hype average members of team USA and to overblow the USA’s chances for success. Lalas made some dumb comments like claiming that Kasey Keller was the best goalkeeper in the world and that every major club in the world wanted Trindad’s Shaka Hislop, but he choose MLS (where Lalas works). The truth is that MLS once again proved it isn’t even close to being a major international league despite the daily defenses of Lalas and Wynalda. Lalas clearly isn’t objective and in 2010 he should not be invited back.
DAVE O’BRIEN AND MARCELLO BALBOA
O’Brien is a baseball announcer who requested the World Cup assignment when he renegotiated his contract with the network last year. The Soccer elite in this nation has been downright cruel in assessing O’Brien’s performance, but he doesn’t seem to mind as his goal is to try and attract the casual fan to watch the World Cup. O’Brien has little if any knowledge of US Soccer or the MLS, but seems to know a great deal about the English Premier League, and the players and clubs who populate the EPL. (This means that ESPN’s O’Brien has been watching Soccer on a network other than ESPN as FOX Sports Net has the American rights for the EPL). O’Brien made many mistakes in early matches but as the cup progressed he grew more comfortable and much more competent.
Balboa was an upgrade over Ty Keough in 2002 but still made several slip ups. ESPN and ABC seem to have a “jockacracy” of former US National Team players when many good soccer analysts such as GOL TV’s Ray Hudson and Fox Soccer Channel’s Bobby McMahon would do admirable jobs. Perhaps those individuals have the wrong accent for ESPN, as does the best analyst on the network Tommy Smyth. Balboa seemed to know little about teams that do not compete in the CONCACAF region and could use some more seasoning before being given a top assignment again.
GRADE: C +
JP DELLACAMRA AND JOHN HARKES
Dellacamra has for years been ESPN’s best soccer announcer, although the network has yet to promote him to first team work. As usual he was excellent during this world cup. John Harkes was a pleasant surprise. Opinionated and arrogant as a player he brought the same qualities and a seasoned knowledge of the European game to the broadcast booth. This was for my money, easily the best team calling games in Germany for American TV. ESPN should pair these two together for LaLiga and UEFA telecasts this upcoming European season.
GLEN DAVIS AND SHEPP MESSING
For the second consecutive World Cup, this team was horrendous. Messing much like in 2002 missed several obvious events during the game and Davis was boring and dry in his call of the games. This team seemed to do no research on the teams they were covering and were flat out awful. These two are used to the slow, dispassionate pace of MLS games and much like MLS players, they fall flat on their faces on the international stage. They will go back to calling Red Bull New York games for MSG where they should stay.
GRADE: D MINUS
ADRIAN HEALY AND TOMMY SMYTH
An excellent team that unfortunately, only got to call a limited number of first round games. Healy and Smith flow well together and have a chemistry that is rare for an Englishman and an Irishman. They both understand the game and had a deep knowledge of the teams they were covering. Smyth also spent an extensive amount of time during the broadcasts discussing other world cup events and games which served as good promotion for the networks upcoming matches. This team did some of ESPN’s Champions League games last season and should be brought back to do UEFA action this season as well.
GRADE: B PLUS
ROB STONE AND ROBIN FRASER
Stone should stick to sideline reporting where he is decent, and Fraser needs some seasoning before being called back to action. This team was unspectacular but did not make any major mistakes either. Fraser has decent knowledge but he and Stone had chemistry issues. As a fifth string team, they were serviceable and certainly better than the Davis/Messing team that called twice as many games.
GRADE C MINUS