ESPN World Cup Commentators: Progress Report Card

Sportscaster Bob Ley (L) and the U.S. men's soccer head coach Bob Bradley (R) announce the 23-man roster heading to the World Cup during a teleconference at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, May 26, 2010. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

ESPN’s coverage of the 2010 World Cup has been spectacular. But if I must be honest, some of the commentators are beginning to get on my nerves. It’s normal, I guess – especially after you consider how many hours we’ve spent listening to these commentators since the tournament began on June 11.

Based on what I’ve seen from ESPN thus far, here are a few interesting observations regarding the World Cup coverage:

John Harkes. I have an incredible amount of respect for Harksey as a player at both the club and international level. And he seems a genuinely nice guy. But he’s not a brilliant co-commentator. I’ve already discussed how I feel he talks too much. But there’s nothing that annoys me more about commentators than when they seemingly jinx players.

For example, when I saw Landon Donovan walking up to take a free kick against Algeria, the last thing I want to hear is how Harkes thinks that Donovan is lethal with free kicks. When Harkes says that, the expectation level among viewers soars because many of them think that Donovan will score. But more often than not, a goal comes when you least expect it. And when it doesn’t come from a free kick, it’s almost as if Harkes is setting up the player and viewer for failure, although I realize that’s not his intention.

Ian Darke. I love Ian Darke, I really do. But during a high pressure game such as the United States against Algeria, the last thing I want him asking the viewer and John Harkes is how nervous we are. If we’re US fans, of course we’re nervous. And by asking the question, it only adds more pressure on top of what we’re already feeling.

Martin Tyler. There is no commentator on this planet who is better than Tyler. Having that said, Tyler sounds more understated this tournament than usual. At times, he sounds blase’ — much more so than usual. Other times, he sounds tired. While he’s a brilliant commentator, his delivery in this World Cup hasn’t been at his top form yet. But I trust that things will improve after the intensity of the first round concludes.

British commentators. I’ve been enjoying the myriad of British commentators that ESPN has hired to cover the World Cup. But I’m bemused by the amount of references the commentators continually make regarding the English Premier League. In many ways, it’s understandable. It’s the league that the British commentators are most familiar with. But I’ve found that in most games, a few references to the Premier League are often mentioned whether it’s about a player or manager. If it wasn’t for John Harkes (and Martin Tyler, to be fair), Major League Soccer would be forgotten in this tournament. Thankfully both Harkes and Tyler weave in mentions now and again to ensure that MLS is not overlooked entirely in this tournament.

The other thing about the British commentators is that every once in a while they’ll throw a British expression which may seem perfectly normal to them but may be befuddle some American viewers. When Darke describes a defense as at “sixes and sevens,” do most American viewers understand what he means?

Not that there’s anything wrong with using British expressions during commentary of games. I just find it interesting that we’re watching the games in America on American television yet the commentary is very Anglo-centric.

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