Post-World Cup Exposes Weaknesses of US Soccer Commentators

The one thing that the preseason friendlies have revealed to me thus far is the enormous drop off in talent between the commentary teams that we were spoilt with during the World Cup to the B-level of talent we witnessed during the Man United vs Celtic (Glenn Davis and Kyle Martino) and San Jose Earthquakes vs Tottenham Hotspur (Rob Stone and Taylor Twellman) games. It almost feels like separation anxiety now that Ian Darke, Roberto Martinez and others have left us.

In fairness to ESPN, their usual team of US-based A-level commentators must be taking a well-deserved vacation after working the 31-day World Cup tournament. But still, the lack of decent commentary by the remaining commentators available is alarming. And it’s something that I didn’t pay particular attention to until reality struck that Darke, Tyler, Martinez and company are now back in the UK.

Here are just a few examples of how poor ESPN’s commentary was during the Earthquakes against Spurs game Saturday:

  1. Stone and Twellman raved about Robbie Keane and described how he is currently “in his prime” and would be a perfect designated player signing for MLS especially for a team such as New England Revolution. While I don’t disagree that Keane would be a welcome addition to MLS, to describe Keane as being in the prime of his career is absurd. He’s 30 years old. He was on loan to Celtic last season because he couldn’t get a regular starting place ahead of Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko. Robbie Keane’s prime of his career has long passed. You could argue that his best year was his 2006-2007 season at Tottenham when he scored 22 goals in 44 appearances. That was 3-4 years ago.
  2. Here’s an actual transcript of how Stone described one incident in the game yesterday: “Cornell Glen gets his man down, fires, and Cudicini serves up no rebound.” Huh? Cringe.
  3. The pronunciation of some of the players names were butchered. For example, the commentators had a particularly difficult time pronouncing the names of Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar.
  4. Twellman was raving about Gareth Bale. I admire his skills too and find him to be one of the most exciting players in the Premier League. But during the game when Twellman described how well left back Bale was playing, he made a comment that wouldn’t England love to have someone of his caliber in that position? Problem is that England has Ashley Cole, one of the best left backs in the world.
  5. Last but not least, most American commentators need to put the statistics sheet away and concentrate on the game itself. Watching the San Jose against Tottenham game, it often felt like Stone and Twellman were treating the 90 minutes like a talk show instead of focusing on the game itself. When commentators read statistic after statistic, it makes the listener feel as if the commentators are overcompensating for their inadequacies. It’s also frustrating because it takes us away from the game itself. All we want to do is hear about the match and what they’re seeing on the pitch. Not what happened off it in the past.

Many of the criticisms of Stone and Twellman can be leveled against most B-level soccer commentators in the United States. Twellman, to be fair, was in the color commentator seat for the first time ever for ESPN, so it’ll take time for him to improve. But based on first impressions, it was a terrible performance. Stone, meanwhile, is a much better presenter than commentator, so he was definitely out of his element this past weekend.

But whether it’s the team of Stone-Twellman or other commentators, the fact of the matter is that there’s huge room for improvement in the level of commentating of soccer games in the United States. But the reality is that there are few decent role models in the States. Phil Schoen of GolTV is the best one. JP Dellacamera, while not perfect, has the experience. John Harkes, despite the criticism, is improving and we saw that improvement as the World Cup evolved this summer. Adrian Healey and Robbie Mustoe are getting better and continue to hone their craft, but despite living in the States for several years, they’re technically English commentators, not American. Kyle Martino is likable but needs more experience.

The reality is that there aren’t a whole lot of decent soccer commentators or analysts in the United States, hence the reason ESPN hired most of its talent from Europe this summer. However, US sports networks have an opportunity to groom talent. Consider how many hours of games are available for them to work on throughout a typical season even if the games themselves are using the international feed. There are still plenty of time before, at half-time and after games to hone their craft.

The other option is for ESPN and other broadcasters to hire foreign talent on a permanent deal. While Martin Tyler, Ian Darke and company are well paid for their services in the United Kingdom, there still may be room for other English commentators to ply their craft in the States on a permanent deal. What about bringing over a Steve Banyard or Stewart Robson on a 12-month contract? Someone with quality who can help mentor some of the less experienced U.S. commentators and analysts? It’s definitely worth a consideration.

95 thoughts on “Post-World Cup Exposes Weaknesses of US Soccer Commentators”

  1. Re: #4 – pretty much every commentator made that same exact comment during the EPL games last year. Granted that because Cole was injured and there was a worry he wouldn’t be ready for the Cup, but I wouldn’t jump on Twellman for that comment alone.

    I think this is a little petty – comparing guys who are basically novices to some of the most experienced commentators in the world is like comparing a USSF-2 team to an EPL squad. It’s not very fair.

    1. Definitely agree with the first paragraph. I heard numerous EPL commentators talk about how great Gareth Bale was. When Fabio Capello was at a Tottenham game I distinctly remember both the commentators, and later the British journalists on the ESPN Soccernet podcast, rave about Bale and how Capello wishes he was English.

  2. Could not agree more! That was a pathetic display of knowledge of the game, recognition of quality of the players and pronunciations were dispicable. Who the hell is Lucas Mahdrick? Clearly the talent of US announcers is as good as the so called league here.

  3. Completely agree with your assessment. I watched Saturday’s Spurs – San Jose match on mute for the second half. How can a commentator not pronounce Jermaine Jenas’ name correctly? Appalling.

    I suppose that bringing over some B or even C-level talent from Europe to help improve the lackluster quality of some downright frustrating performances here in the States wouldn’t be a bad idea. They should think about doing this for commentators, as well.

  4. Tommy Smyth and Derek Rae- pure class. But you can’t bash American commentators. Its quite simple that they will never be as good as British, Irish, and Scottish commentators because they lack that accent that Americans find to be more exciting, and the UK finds to be the standard. You will often hear people in States who in no way follow soccer attempt to imitate the FIFA commentators Martin Tyler and Andy Grey.

    1. ‘will never be as good as British, Irish, and Scottish commentators’

      errrr, you might want to take a geography course. British includes Scottish. That’s like saying American & Californian commentators. Did you mean English instead of British…..?

  5. I never saw the games, but can give me an idea of exactly how off-target their pronunciations were?

    If they’re just pronouncing Modric and Krankjar with an American accent, rather than an English accent, then I think this is forgiveable. I’m sure the English pronunciation is probably not much superior in terms of approximating the correct Croation (?) pronunciation.

    On the other hand, if they don’t at least attempt to pronounce the “c” in Modric as a “soft” C (like Mod-Rich, rather than Mod-Rick), then yeah, they deserve all the criticism they get.

      1. Yeah I wouldn’t get your knickers in a twist over Modric vs Mow-dritch. I’m no expert on Croatian (in fact, pardon my ignorance, Im not even sure if that’s a language), but I’m guessing that “Mow-dritch” and “Moddrich” are no better or worse than each other in comparison to the true Croatian pronunciation.

    1. It’s not so much an accent issue, more attempting to learn the correct native pronunciation. In general English commentators attempt to get as close as they can to the correct pronunciation of foreign names. Those that don’t tend to get ridiculed as the fans are normally pretty knowledgeable on this. The only people that tend to Anglicise all the names are some ex-players & managers who are stuck in their ways or see it as some bizarre badge of honour.

      1. @ Yido, despite partially-defending US commentators in my comment above, I do agree with you that a lot of US pronouncers don’t even TRY to get the pronunciation right.
        Sometimes I wonder if this is something inherent to American culture, since the US is full of people who routinely Anglicize even their own names (eg Italian Americans and Jewish/German Americans).

  6. “Gareth Bale!!…He’s a stud”….lol!!!
    The guys couldn’t stop saying it!!
    To all you in the US, that sounds rather camp in the UK !!

    1. Yes I was watching on the internet and couldn’t stop laughing when he kept saying Gareth Bale is a stud,
      I think they tried hard but it just seemed really weird to me, I thought they might have picked something up from the guys who have just done the world cup but obviously not

  7. Also in their defence, Paolo Wanchope played in England for years, and our beloved Tyler, Darke, Motson etc never quite settled on how to pronounce his last name.

    1. In fact they continuously pronounced his name WRONG throughout his tenure in England with West Ham, Derby and Citeh. Same for Juan Pablo Angel in his seven Prem seasons.

      Even Klaus Jan Huntelaar name was mispronounced by Tyler in this years Champions League.

      But then again, I guess the Brit pronunciation is the proper pronunciation for any footballer’s name in some people’s world. Even over their own native pronunciation.

      As far as the announcers, I tend to watch matches in Espanol if available in both languages but do agree with many of the criticisms. Despite mispronouncing names for years, English/Scottish commentators tend to actually understand what they are watching and are able to make poignant, relevant observations about the match itself in a way the vast majority of anglophone American commentators cannot.

      1. I think at one point, Wanchope actually came out and said publicly that he was happy for commentators to call him whatever they felt comfortable with.

        I believe the “correct” pronunciation was “Wank-oppay”, so I guess it was probably less awkard for everyone involved to just call him “Wonn-Chop”.

        I don’t think people should get too worked up over how people pronounce foreign names, as long as they’re making some semi-reasonable attempt. As the holder of a strong provincial accent myself, I know how hard it is to shrug off certain vowel sounds to mimic those of a foreign accent.

  8. Twellman also referred to Bale as a stud at every opportunity possible, sometimes as an “absolute stud”, every tackle was called a “turnover” and I’m sure I even heard the goal called a cage. That makes perfect sense, a “cage”, with a bloody great hole in the front of it. That said, the commentary was more entertaining than the game and more accurate then Robbie Keane was in front of goal.

    1. Absolute stud, turnover, and cage. LOL :)
      OMG this is priceless, I’m gonna have to tune in to a few more of these games, they are just brilliant for comedy value.
      I will be watching the Man Utd game waiting for some more quality American terms.

  9. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed by the commentary of the games especially SJ/Spurs. Granted, the pronunciation of names is a challenge especially if you’re unfamiliar with them. But perhaps, some effort should have been put into learning how to say the names correctly beforehand. It’s not like they found out they were calling the game 5 minutes before kickoff. Also, the point that was made about Gareth Bale at left back and how he performed exceptionally last season is a little misinformed. Yes, he played in that position on Saturday, but he excelled last season when primarily deployed in the left winger/midfield role and got to leave the defending down his side of the field to Assou-Ekoto. My last gripe is rather petty. I started cringing after hearing them call Bale a stud for the nth time. We get it. He knows how to play. Also, the generic commentary on a player on the taller/bigger side is that he “has such nimble footwork for a player of his size”. There’s a lot more to their game than just that. I think a little more work and research done prior to games would help with the substance and delivery of the commentary.

  10. The commentators for the Spurs/Earthquakes match were atrocious. Both were inept and kept rambling on incessantly on a topic will after it passed. I understand that the ESPN put out their best for the World Cup, but surely there isn’t that big of a drop off in the talent pool? Max Bretos would be best served commentating instead of sitting in a studio. Have these people not just watched the World Cup and how the likes of Martin Tyler and Efan Ekoku worked with one another?

    I’m sorry there isn’t an excuse for this level of crap.

  11. [Twellman was raving about Gareth Bale. I admire his skills too and find him to be one of the most exciting players in the Premier League. But during the game when Twellman described how well left back Bale was playing, he made a comment that wouldn’t England love to have someone of his caliber in that position? Problem is that England has Ashley Cole, one of the best left backs in the world.]

    plus isn’t Garreth Bale Welch?

    1. I think he knew he was Welsh – I think that was the point he was making, that England fans WISH he was English. (Just like you could have said the same thing about Giggs).
      And as someone mentioned elsewhere, he played much of last season at left-mid, so even if Ashley Cole was fit and in form, it wouldn’t stop us wishing we could have Bale too. He is an absolute stud, after all 😉

      1. Oof. Can’t agree with you on this one, Gaffer. Sullivan has the most annoying habit of pronouncing everyone’s names as if they were Spanish. Have you ever heard him say “Onyewu”? You would think Gooch was South American.

        1. Sullivan is awful and looked so totally out of his depth on Ticket to South Africa it was embarrassing. He needs to go.

          1. I disagree. I thought Sullivan did well on Ticket To South Africa, but it was hard for him to get a word in edgewise because Andy Gray was monopolizing the conversations.

            The Gaffer

          2. Sullivan is awful and looked so totally out of his depth on Ticket to South Africa it was embarrassing.

            Holy cow, you’ve got to be kidding me. Sullivan knew more than anyone else on that set about world football, players and team histories. He dusted the other guys every time on those sorts of details. It got to the point that Gray and Barton would shrug and say things like, “I’ll have to pass this one to Sully.”

            Andy Gray is solid at breaking down tactics in a cogent, easily digestible form. That was his main contribution to the show. But to say Sullivan was “out of his depth” is either pitifully ignorant or pitifully biased, and thus you have my pity.

          3. I disagree as well. Sullivan by far was the best from Ticket to South Africa. I used to not like Sullivan because of his odd accent, but after watching Ticket to South Africa, I realized he is extremely knowledgeable and understands the game more than most pundits, especially Warren Barton! Barton was terrible IMO. Andy Gray is Andy Gray, enthusiastic but sometimes not on point like Sullivan. Sullivan seems to have more tactical awareness of the game, which I appreciate.

  12. So we are comparing a current player doing his first game in a meaningless friendly to people that have been doing this for 30 years? I know you brought up those points Gaffer, but it seems like a pretty passive-aggressive way to bitch and moan. I am sure the British networks have their best announcers calling the Chelsea v. Peterborough friendly, right?!?!

    I laugh at the criticism of not pronouncing the Croatian players names like the English announcers do it. You do realize that it would sound different in the native tongue right? The British announcers know their leagues like the back of their hand. When it gets to other leagues they lack tremendously. Andy Gray and Martin Tyler are flat out terrible at giving relevant information about players that don’t ply their trade in the EPL. Sure they sound nice and are professional announcers, because they have been doing it for years. But, I have no problem with Taylor Twellman knowing tons more about the MLS than he does about the EPL….it makes perfect sense.

    1. Kevin, I mentioned that in fairness, it was Twellman’s first game. But even if that’s his first game, he should have done a much better job than he did. I don’t think many of the British commentators are that good either. There are some pretty terrible ones. But I’m comparing Twellman/Stone to the current crop of US soccer commentators, and they have a lot of room for improvement.

      The Gaffer

      1. Fair enough Gaffer. Thanks for the response. I think ESPN is in a tough spot with the “summer of soccer” tour. Their entire production crew and announce teams are coming off a grueling month spent half a world away. Now they have all these potentially interesting friendlies on the docket and it makes sense to me that they would turn to B and C announce teams to cover. I personally like the fact that Stone doesn’t try to “anglo” his commentary too much. Granted he is better as a sideline reporter, but he follows the game closely and I respect that he doesn’t mind using American terms. He seems more comfortable in his own skin than guys like Harkes and Sullivan….who seem to throw out weird accents at times to try and sound more authentic or something.

        Maybe the Twellman experiement failed, but he is/was a good player and it is obvious that he has a ton of personality. I can see why they would give him a shot.

  13. Honestly, ESPN has horrible commentators for every sport, with very few exceptions. Baseball’s Joe Morgan is one of the most insufferable commentators in any sport. The numerous variations of failed MNF threesome commentators–Dennis Miller, Tony Kornheiser. Gruden and Jaws are decent, but I still think Mike Tirico is not as talented as ESPN believe he is. Marc Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy for basketball.

    Across all sports ESPN fields talent in the commentary booth that is inferior to competing networks. NBC and FOX are better than ESPN for football. TNT is WELL BETTER than ESPN for NBA basketball. Anybody is better than Joe Morgan for baseball. So don’t expect ESPN to step up their soccer game any time soon. They haven’t figured out how to cover sports that are considered the American Pasttime.

    1. I think this is a good comment. ESPN appears to spend its money on producing talent, graphics, and innovations like cameras on the field, overhead cameras for NFL, ESPN-Axis for rotating point-of-view replays (I don’t find it adds that much value, but it’s somewhat cool to watch) and, now, of course, ESPN 3-D.

      I thought you put it great: “Mike Tirico is not as talented as ESPN believe he is”. (though Jim Nantz can be somewhat insufferable too for CBS in his many-hatted role). But Fox & Sky get it much more right with commentators (at least away from FSC LA!).

      Lalas: not as talented as ESPN believe he is.
      Harkes: not as …..
      Morgan: not as…..

      I think the tennis guys they use are quite good.

      And Martinez/Gullit/Klinsmann were good hires

  14. ever since tv replaced radio as the primary sports medium, America has not had good commentators. They commentate football games exactly as they’ve heard other commentate other sports here.

    1. But there are some announcers that are good in their respective fields – Al Michaels, Marv Albert, Sean McDonough, Ron Franklin, Brad Nesler, Mike Patrick. It just seems that no Americans ever tasked to cover a *soccer* game are ever any good at it.

      1. I actually think the soccer-watching experience is going to get revolutionized, and it will probably be ESPN that does it. Americans gravitated toward John Madden, who, importantly, for all his turducken down-home, red-state shtick, truly has the skill of being able to see what all 22 players were doing on every individual play. I actually don’t think any of the soccer color commentators I have heard, either in the EPL or the World Cup, have demonstrated that skill. I have never seen a live soccer commentator pick up the telestrator and diagram (QUICKLY!) what Iniesta did right moving off the ball, or the 3 options that Fabregas had and how he made the right one. Or, more importantly, how diagonal runs by strikers pull defenders with them, opening up space behind them for attacking midfielders to maraud forward and score.

        My guess is that some commentator needs to come along, who is as fluent with a telestrator as John Madden, to explain the game to Americans, even sophisticated Americans who play and watch the sport, at an even higher level. That is what Madden did over the last couple of decades, and he appealed to both the casual fan (through jokes and schtick and energy!) as well as the sophisticated x’s and o’s aficionado. ESPN will probably give that person the technology, through best-in-class production, to either (a) quickly telestrate replays in the much smaller space available than is available in football or basketball or baseball, or (b) do split-screen PiP to show replays and live action simultaneously now that more and more people have HD & widescreen; or (c) give a great commentator/telestrator the ability to draw over LIVE action. I am serious that this could dramatically enhance US viewers’ understanding of our beloved sport, and (yes, I know it could also be intrusive) Americanize the television viewing of the sport in a way to make it even more mainstream and accessible (more like our other sports).

        I think we were all embarrassed watching Tirico say goaltender over and over and over until his producers clearly yelled into his ear keeper-Keeper-KEEPER. But Fowler was strong and Ley was strong and both understand the game. I thought Fowler talked about soccer as soccer (not as English football) but didn’t make any ridiculous errors like Tirico did.

        1. Don’t underestimate my point about ENERGY. It’s often not HOW MUCH you say, but HOW you say it. Ekoku, on an energy scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is high, was a 2, or often a 1. If there was anyone else in the room with me, then I never heard a word Ekoku said. Harkes was like a 3. Americans fell in love with Darke, because he’s naturally a 7, and at the right moments he’s a 9, and occasionally a full-out Kevin Harlan 10.

          Americans didn’t take to Tyler right away because he likes to modulate and throughout the early rounds he was a 3 on the energy scale. He is an intellectual about the game, but one who also knows how, Vin Scully-style (and Tyler loves Scully), to simply say, “Lam-PAAAAARD”, taking himself quickly from 3 to 9, and then let the crowd noise speak.

          There was no crowd noise, of course, in South Africa. Well, no modulated crowd noise. No roars, no oohs, no ahhhs, no crowd-inducing tension, and incorporating that natural sound is part of what Scully & Tyler have always done so well. So turn on 40,000 buzzing bees and Tyler sounded out of place, because he just isn’t that 7/8/9 energy guy throughout a game.

        2. I would LOVE to see somebody attempt telestrate an EPL match. That would be fantastic. It would require real talent, and be much more interesting to watch than when Warren Barton is given the backgammon pieces on dry-erase board to play with at halftime. The pace of the game would make it prohibitive though. Maybe they ought to experiment with it during MLS games?

  15. Best thing about that game was watching the young England U 19 international play on the left for Tottenham. I think he and Bale did a good job skinning the San Jose players all game. Lets hope he gets a few prem games this season.

    1. Andros Townsend. He played really well down the left wing. The only issue I had with him was that his final cross was poor. Still, he’s only 19, shows a lot of promise and it’s still summer so hopefully his skills will progress and he’ll get a chance to play for the Lilywhites this season.

      The Gaffer

      1. Agree, his crossing let him down a bit but I think a lot of the Tottenham players looked a bit rusty, the final cross was poor from both wings.
        Keane looked like a bag of shit, he needs to go back to Scotland, I can’t see him starting much this season if he plays like that.

        1. …but Poker, the commentators said that Robbie Keane is “in his prime” right now. So maybe the two of us don’t know anything?! 😉

          The Gaffer

          1. I wouldn’t disagree with you there Gaffer – both you and Poker Rakeback have shown precious little knowledge of the game over the last 8 weeks.

  16. I though it was pretty funny and was annoyed at the same time when the announcers in the ManU vs Celtic match brought up the teams that got promoted from the CC Championship and called Newcastle and Blackpool newbies that were going to be trying to win the league.

  17. I agree, people are being too hard on the novices – the person that really gets my goat is Tommy Smyth – what an idiot and if I ha be to hear ‘in the old onion bag’ again…….

  18. This seems like enough of an opportunity to reiterate the fact that, during ESPN’s halftime coverage of a Euro 2008 match, Rob Stone stated that a team has “never come back from down more than… two… shoots.”

  19. I made the exact same observations while watching the Celtic Man-U game. I had to turn the volume down so that I wouldn’t hear the annoying announcers.
    I almost couldn’t watch the game. It just seems as though European’s are better suited to call the game.

  20. Funny, and I was ragging them throughout the match as well, but you missed one of the more comical dialogues. Guy 1 said he thought Jenas was a really good player (funny in itself) but that his problem was that he was “competing with a guy named Frank Lampard” (presumably for a spot in the English starting 11, though Jenas is probably 20th or so in the pecking order) and Guy 2 said, “Not to mention John Terry.”

  21. As much as I enjoyed Ian Darke, he butchered so many of the Spanish-speaking players’ names during the World Cup — treating G’s as if they were J’s, S’s as if they were Z’s, giving different pronunciations for the same name.

  22. American commentators talk too much. This applies to all sports.

    Glenn Davis is embarrassing. I swear Man Utd had 3 shots and he just said “SHOT IS BLOCKED!” all 3 times. Come up with a better vocabulary.

    Not all British commentators are great (Peter Drury) but they know the game a lot better than we do and are trained to let the pictures do the talking.

  23. I thought the funniest part was when Stone introduced Twellman as “former US international” and TT raised the briefest of eyebrows.

    However, I think you’re misconstruing the point about Bale; it’s true that Cashley wouldn’t be displaced at left back, but Bale could certainly have waltzed into the English squad on the left side of midfield. Not that he would have wanted to.

  24. Everyone talks about how American commentators don’t “know the game,” and I think that’s the root of the problem. Commentators start to feel inadequate so they spew off statistic after statistic and ramble on about who would be a good DP.

    The reason the English announcers are so much better is that they back off the jibber jabber and let the visuals of the game be the focus. A simple example is that often instead of describing what a player is doing a British announcer will simply call their last name. It brings focus to the action on the pitch without getting in the way.

    American announcers just need to learn to back off. They don’t have to know everything about the game, they just need to realize that at its very best it is a simple game and should be called that way.

  25. I think you guys should get Jonathan Pearce over there, personally I can’t stand him but I think that is because I think he is a little over the top. This might go down better in America though, You guys seem to want someone who is a little louder than our other guys.
    Plus it would mean that I don’t need to listen to him anymore. :)

  26. I just hope we never see Alexi Lalas on TV again. The guys an embarrassment and knows nothing about football; even less than Ian Wright, and that’s saying something!

  27. I never stopped laughing at some of there descriptions saying Huddlestone is built like a line backer. the Goals where describe has a cage and a few other descriptions i have now forgot . They sounded like they where discussing Highlights instead of commentating live. i would love to see there fans commentating like they do on Sky

    1. If we’re going down memory lane, here is another choice quote from Twellman during the San Jose game after Robbie Keane missed a sitter in front of goal: “”It’s got to be on frame.”

      The Gaffer

      1. Gaffer,
        I believe in respecting “soccer” traditions ( I use that term because as an American with strong Irish roots, I recognize that there are other forms of football) and this includes employing, for the most part, English nomenclature when describing and discussing the game, but let us not become doctrinaire on the subject. I thoroughly enjoy EPLTalk and, in particular, your views on the game, but are we to believe that Taylor Twellman is some sort of ignoramous because he employs American terms to describe the game that he plays rather well, and, I suspect, has some knowledge of?

        1. Mike, I don’t think Twellman is a ignoramous. I respect him as a soccer player, but why does he use such cheesy expressions as ”It’s got to be on frame.” I mean, who says that? I don’t want him to turn into an Englishman, and I want him to be natural. But he, like many other US soccer commentators, needs to stay away from the cheesy expressions. It makes soccer fans cringe, and it doesn’t win over the non-believers, so they just need to call the game straight and improve from there.

          The Gaffer

          1. Gaffer,
            My point is that it is inevitable that Americanism will enter the US soccer lexicon and that is as it should be. It is possible that the use of the word “frame” by the US-bred Twellman indicates that the term is au courant among US soccer players and home-grown fans. On the other hand, neophyte commentator Twellman may have used the word in a misguided and cheesy attempt to spice up his commentary.
            Questions about language and accents as they apply to soccer and soccer commentary are interesting. In the long run “authenticity” in these matters will always be subjective.
            I get a kick out of soccer fans who find Tommy Smyth’s accent the “real thing.” Back in his land of birth, Tommy would be known as a “cute Cavan hoor”, meaning a very shrewd individual. His unwavering hold on his broad Cavan accent is proof of that. It clearly goes over big with a segment of the US soccer audience. What I find funny is that the Co. Cavan that Tommy grew up in would have been staunch Gaelic Athletic Association country.
            In fact, until the 1960’s, when television came to Ireland , soccer was still considered by many to be a garrison sport and played mainly in Dublin and other urban areas.
            As I write, a friendly between Glasgow Celtic and Lisbon-based Sporting, which is being played at Fenway Park, is coming on local TV. Boston Bruins ice hockey announcer Jack Edwards is doing the match. It will be interesting to hear his call.

          2. Gaffer,
            My apologies if I am going on a bit too much about linguistic issues, but as I noted in my last post on the subject , Glasgow Celtic and Lisbon-club Sporting, met tonight in a friendly match at Boston’s Fenway Park, and I planned to pay close attention to the TV commentators’ vocabularies.
            Brian Dunseth, the ex MLB player, who provided what we Yanks call “color “commentary, frequently used the term “on frame.” I know this would have set your teeth on edge, but to me it was confirmation that the expression is likely in wide use by young American soccer aficionados and should be grudgingly accepted by more traditional fans, who would be best served by encouraging the preservation of historic soccer terminology without being hidebound fogies
            As to play-by-play guy Jack Edwards, at one point he described a shot on goal as “floating like a (Red Sox pitcher Tim) Wakefield) Knuckleball.”
            My first thought was one of horror, then I realized that the term was completely appropriate for an event that was less an athletic contest than a midsummer happening featuring two teams with huge ethnic followings in Boston. The match, won by Celtic on goal kicks, was a really exciting event,(helped in part by a pitch that was 12 yards short of regulation) for both committed and casual fans of the great game of soccer /football.

          3. In my post about the Celtic/Sporting match, I mistakenly said that Celtic won on goal kicks. I should have said the game went to a penalty shootout which Celtic won.

      2. Gaffer, you took the words right out of my mouth. The two terms American announcers use the most that really bug me are: “on frame” and “the upper 90”.

  28. sorry but last time i checked this is america, if you want to listen to British like commentary, hop a plane & go across the pond :)

  29. Why can’t we just have good commentators, American, British or whoever? Glenn Davis is decent and suited to MLS following his stint at HDNet. John Harkes did just fine in the World Cup and was a good foil to the excellent Ian Darke. But Rob Stone is utter shite and deserves no air time. He routinely tries to Americanize the game with his annoying drivel. If I hear shite like “on frame” one more time I will need to get a new TV. Get him off the soccer and back covering college lacrosse where he belongs.

    1. Here’s another Rob Stone classic from this past Saturday when he described a long pass as “a hit from left field.” Wrong sport buddy.

      The Gaffer

  30. Honestly, it’s getting to the point where I absolutely love hearing these guys call games, just because I know it annoys you people so much.

    Look, while some of these complaints are valid — mispronounced names and whatnot — there’s a broader context that I think most of you tend to overlook with this stuff: These guys aren’t commentating just for you. They’re commentating for an audience — American sports fans — that aren’t full-blown soccer fanatics at the moment.

    Anytime you view an ESPN soccer telecast, you should process it through that filter. You’ll start to understand why you’re hearing a lot of what you’re hearing. It can be overt, it can be subtle, but either way it’s an intrinsic and deliberate characteristic of the presentation, from the commentators on down.

    Whether you think that approach is a good one or a bad one, the bottom line is that it is the approach, and you’d do well to realize and accept that. It will explain away a lot of what you currently deem “ignorance” or “silliness,” and will probably make you quit huffing and puffing so much about this crap.

    In fact, American soccer in general will be a lot more fun and satisfying for you if you choose to experience it as a journey of growth and progress. Every game on your television set is another step toward strengthening America’s embrace of soccer, toward growing and improving the sport here. When you watch with that stance, it becomes the game that accompanies the game, and the whole thing becomes imbued with so much more meaning.

    As it is, it’s like you all sit here mentally comparing everything to Europe, then getting yourself all annoyed when it inevitably fails to match up. That’s just a futile cause. It’s not where we are, it’s not who we are, it’s not when we are. Right now soccer in the United States is a journey, a ride with a tantalizing destination, and you’d all benefit from hopping aboard and enjoying it for that.

    1. Nice post and you are right on in many ways. That said, I think ESPN learned an important lesson from the 2006 world cup that was applied in 2010. Its ok to reach out to a new audience but not at the expense of alienating the core viewer that prefers to hear the world “penalty” to “PK”, or “goal” to “on frame”. ESPN’s coverage for 2010 was superb because they did not dumb it down. They hired top notch commentators, pundits who know their stuff and made the world cup an event in the same way NBC does with the Olympics. The fact that most of the commentators this time were not Americans will change over time. Four years from now we might be tuning in for color commentary from the likes of Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Brian McBride and other ex-US internationals.

      That said, I do agree with you that all this nit-picking detracts from the real story – the growth of this game in this country. The bods I know at work who had no interest in the sport before are still talking about the world cup two weeks on. I’m on board and enjoying the ride.

  31. No question Robbie Keane has had a tough couple of years in the Premier League but don’t forget that Liverpool signed him for GBP 20m just two years ago. He didn’t play many games at Liverpool (ask Rafa) and the form of Crouch and Defoe was the reason he went on loan to Celtic last year. He got 12 goals in 16 games in Scotland (admittedly at a lower level) but 2009 also equalled his best ever year at International level. You mention the fact that he is 30 but the very best strikers can often be at their best between 27 and 32 (Shearer scored 23 premier league goals at the age of 34). Don’t write off his prime just yet – if he is given the chance to play regularly (both Villa and Fulham are rumoured to be interested) Keane will still get well into double figures in the Premier League.

  32. ESPN or FSC could do a contest to find commentators. It isn’t that hard to find talented people from the US if they do so. I saw a similar program in the middle east which produced at least 4 good commentators.

  33. Gaffer, Keane has NOT been in top form the past two seasons I agree – yes it may be true but saying a 30 year old Keane is past his prime is YOUR opinion. I don’t know what context the commentator used the word “prime” but It’s slightly arrogant to say it’s absurd based on Keane going out on loan when the likes of Pavlichenko had to score a goal a game to get a starting spot for Spurs this season.

    1. brn442, so are you saying that Robbie Keane IS in the prime of his career right now?

      The context that the commentators were describing Robbie Keane as being “in his prime” right now was in terms of Keane being a perfect designated player candidate for New England Revolution. He could do well at New England or another MLS club, but to suggest that Keane is in the prime of playing career right now is absurd, in my opinion.

      Yes, it was a friendly, but did you see how bad Keane was on Saturday?

      The Gaffer

  34. Christian Miles of FSC should get some run. He can actually pronounce most players names and combines a good blend of analysis and humor to his call.

  35. I liked when Twellman said Jenas was stuck behind Lampard in the midfield for an England spot. Then Stone said don’t forget about him being stuck behind Terry.

  36. Hopefully ESPN and Fox take a look at the World Cup and how praised the commentary was both in the booth and during the studio shows and start to apply some lessons learned to other sports.

    Play by play and commentary during sporting events in the US has been in a rut for a while now, and hopefully the WCs success breathes some fresh air into commentary.

  37. Smashing article.
    Also, Tom Huddlestone was described as a “line-back” in the game on saturday on ESPN. Quality, lol

    1. He wasn’t “described” as a “line-back.” His size and musculature were compared to that of a linebacker, a position in American football.

      You came in here thinking you’d mock someone for saying something stupid in public, and you wound up saying something stupid in public. Quality. “Lol.”

  38. I don’t have a problem with American commentators using Americanisms. The problem I have is that they lack understanding of the game. They talk continuously and believe they have to say something or else people will feel they don’t know anything. Sometimes the flow of the game requires the commentators to say nothing. Most British announcers understand this and so it is not uncommon to have periods during a match when nothing is said. Not so with American commentators of all sports. They talk ad nauseum as if they they get paid by the number of words they utter.

  39. Gaffer,
    Good article and spot on! American announcers are terrible – and I’m American! What about ESPN hiring someone like Barry Davies – retired BBC commentator, or to really spice things up Mr. Stuart Hall!! I’m serious -especially about Davies. I don’t think the American public would appreciate (or get) Mr. Hall.

  40. Gaffer,
    Another example of American announcers talking incessantly is with tennis coverage. During Wimbledon,the Tennis Channel picks up the BBC feed with their commentary, and is so refreshing not to hear jibberish after every single point. People here in the US go on about McEnroe, but he needs to take a cue from the BBC and take a breath once in awhile – btw – McEnroe works for the BBC during Wimbledon as well, and when he does he definetly tones it down and is not getting paid by the word! The point is it might just be a cultural thing???

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