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The English Commentator Invasion Of American Soccer

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Arlo White, The Voice of the MLS on NBC

Today, NBC confirmed reports that they have hired Arlo White as their primary play-by-play voice for their brand-new Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer coverage. As many of you know, White has been the voice of Seattle Sounders FC, and with the new gig will come the end of his affiliation with the Sounders.

This acquisition seals up the play-by-play positions for the two national networks for Major League Soccer, ESPN and NBC. White completes a trio of British announcers, joining ESPN’s Ian Darke and Adrian Healey. It has truly evolved into a new British Invasion.

It seems that the networks have decided that the successful formula for domestic soccer coverage is coupling a British voice with American color commentators. ESPN has enjoyed good ratings pairing Darke and Healey with John Harkes and Taylor Twellman. As we reported before Thanksgiving, Harkes will not return to ESPN as his contract has expired, and Twellman has been promoted.

It’s tough to compare FOX Soccer by numbers to ESPN because their distribution to households is less pervasive. J.P. Dellacamera is a well-respected voice, but Kyle Martino wasn’t the right fit. According to reports, Dellacamera is still under contract with FOX Soccer and had no desire to leave.

If there’s another team that adds credence to pairing a Brit with a Yank, it would be GolTV’s primary coverage team. Phil Schoen has covered soccer for many years, and his English color partner, Ray Hudson, may actually be the best pairing on American television. Hudson’s flair for the dramatic is somewhat polarizing, but there is no doubt that they know the sport and are pros at entertaining. There were some who hoped that Schoen and Hudson could make their way onto the NBC networks, given their individual histories with MLS (Schoen as announcer of the first 4 MLS Cups, Hudson as a Coach for two different franchises).

In the short term I think this move towards British announcers fits the current landscape of those who watch the sport. Major League Soccer has thrived as they’ve adopted European strategies, whether it be catering to independently-organized Supporters Groups, building soccer-specific stadiums, or allowing big spending on foreign talent in certain cases. If there is any concern about Darke’s analysis, it’s a lack of knowledge of American players and the league. Arlo White, as with Healey, has become well-acquainted with the American game, both the talent as well as the style. The vernacular of course is different, but as Premier League and Champions League fixtures have grown in popularity, the target audience for soccer has learned to interpret the British slang.

What I do find unfortunate is that our country seems to have no other domestic talent worthy of the top billing for MLS broadcasts. We’ve seen Rob Stone as a third option at ESPN, but I do not have enough evidence to proclaim my thoughts on his abilities. Obviously Dellacamera and Schoen are top-notch, but guys like Max Bretos and Mark Rogandino haven’t earned high marks yet. Perhaps we’re at the point where some new blood needs to be groomed.

Here’s what I’d like to see: ESPN should realize that MLS isn’t a good fit for Darke. He doesn’t know the league well enough, and that leads to unimpressive commentary. It’s not his fault, he is used to covering a stronger league, and thus the lower quality in MLS matches misses the mark for him. Darke should be reserved for English Premier League and USMNT matches, which plays directly to his strengths. I would focus Darke on European friendlies, the CONCACAF Hexagonal, and the time before and during the 2014 World Cup – basically matches that would be in Darke’s wheelhouse. Adrian Healey is much stronger at covering MLS, and should be the primary MLS voice for ESPN. To supplement the Healey/Twellman partnership, ESPN and/or NBC should begin to develop a younger American play-by-play voice on a second team. Whether it’s Stone or another younger announcer, they need to look to the future.

My conclusion is that, in the short-term, the English flavor in national MLS coverage will be successful and the best course. But soccer is growing in this country, and the domestic sport needs some highly skilled, knowledgeable American voices to be developed – just like our on-field talent. It’s not about being exclusionary, but rather growing our own soccer culture. There’s no doubt that Darke, White, and Healey are great at their craft. Devoting resources to finding the next J.P. Dellacamera may deliver the preeminent voice of American soccer for the generations to come.

54 Responses to The English Commentator Invasion Of American Soccer

  1. Rex says:

    I like Glenn Davis as the color man. He knows more about the North
    American game than anyone.

  2. Mark says:

    When JP Dellacamera speaks, my tortured brain develops methods on
    how to destroy my ears. The latest was by deporting them to Abu
    Dhabi.

  3. Chip says:

    Shep Messing, the Red Bulls commentator is underrated. He is blunt,
    entertaining, and generally knowledgeable.

  4. Mel says:

    I don’t even want to see Harkes brought up in these discussions.
    He’s awful and was rightly let go in favor of someone less awful.
    His release is a signal that ESPN actually cares enough about MLS
    to want to improve their coverage. I don’t give a rat’s ass whether
    announcers are American, Brit or Kazakh. I just want ‘em good. And
    many current MLS broadcasters are very, very bad. At the very
    least, British lead broadcasters give aspiring young Yanks a
    standard to aspire to. Darke, Healey and White are three of the
    best – there’s nothing to be ashamed of whatsoever when they’re
    behind the mic, except maybe that more of our US broadcasters
    haven’t learned anything from them.

    • SSReporters says:

      I don’t think ESPN cares about MLS. They just knew no one liked
      Harkes. Remember they canned Marcelo Balboa immediately after the
      WC? If they cared about MLS they wouldn’t piss around with 8 PM
      Friday night kickoffs or some random time they pull out of their
      ass.

  5. SoccerLimey says:

    I agree with your conclusions about almost everything. I think the
    major issue with US commentators is the “boo-yah” influence. Soccer
    breeds it’s own passion and excitement and some US announcers don’t
    quite catch on to the moment, and then make the error of
    over-hyping events or such like which makes their commentary sound
    amateurish. They should try to ply their wares overseas and get
    some experience on how to call a game.

  6. DCUdiplomat says:

    If that confirmation abour Arlo White, is true, Then NBC have
    really started to go in the wrong and bad direction. Personally NBC
    should went with a Primary American Friendly Voice, Not only
    knowledgable, but can help transcend Soccer into Mainstream. Arlo
    White doesn’t have that capabiltiy. NBC is fairly new to the Soccer
    scene and if NBC is really serious about they are about MLS they
    should have went after folks who speak american soccer.

    • Earl Reed says:

      I think the trouble with this logic is that NBC doesn’t want to
      fail. I think going with Arlo White is a safe pick. He’s a guy who
      knows what he’s talking about, and has been involved with
      presenting association football both with the BBC as well as the
      local Seattle coverage. If you bring in an American voice without
      experience, and that person gets panned, you’ve set yourself out on
      the wrong foot. I am interested to see if NBC dabbles in having
      more than one match per weekend on occasion. If that happens, they
      will probably pull in an American announcer to be in that secondary
      team. This medium is on the rise. You now have four organizations
      (ESPN, NBC, FOX Soccer, and GolTV) consistently providing English
      language coverage of the sport. It used to be that only one outfit
      would be interested in even trying to present the sport to our
      population. Soccer would get the “Jack-of-All Trades” announcers
      that did the best they could, but weren’t specialized. That’s the
      prospect if NBC brings in this “Primary American Friendly Voice”
      you speak of, we get a guy like Jim Lampley or Al Trautwig who
      provides a basic account of the game for the new listener, but
      leaves the true fan with a bad taste. I think the game in this
      country has progressed past that point, and it’s going to take 3-5
      years to groom an “American” soccer announcer. Like I said, there
      are a couple in Dellacamera and Schoen, but those guys are tied up
      elsewhere. It’s time for NBC, ESPN, or FOX to develop the talent.

      • DCUdiplomat says:

        LOL Earl U gotta Be kidden Me Schoen And JP have been Established
        themselvs as soccer announcers, American Based soccer announcers,
        Again its seems u continue to demean that Fact. Sounds like you
        just twisting another Europoser agenda that US soccer has to be
        european in this case British. In fact it does not. It only proves
        that ESPNs and to a Smaller extent the FSCs think its cute to get a
        Boring british voice, hello who are trying to fool. Jim Lampleys
        Bob Costas and Many others have the ability to draw the viewer
        regardless what sport in regards to American Sports Broadcasting.
        The dumb folks who appoint Brit announcers fail to do their
        homework. American Soccer already has Good Announcer, its just the
        ignorant Eurosnobs who refused to recognized that Soccer can crawl
        walk and run on its own…….. OMG Ian darke? Please. Tyler?
        Please stay in europe MLS doesn’t need you, Soccer will never
        receive respect by doing this MLS has been a Mainstream side Joke
        for yrs because of whinning Eurowannbes.

        • Earl Reed says:

          You need to learn how to read. I won’t respond to someone who either a) refuses to comprehend what I’ve written, or b) doesn’t have the capacity to digest it. I love Schoen and Dellacamera’s PBP, regardless of how you must reinterpret my words to fit some form of anti-American pigeonhole you try to put me in.

        • CTBlues says:

          Are you Charles in disguise?

      • Ben says:

        NBC failed with the XFL and AFL, I think they gona fail too here, I
        hope I am wrong.

    • Charles says:

      DCUD, Generally I would agree with you, however Arlo really does it
      well. It is too British at times, the nasal British accent, the
      words that are too sophisticated for the moment, wear on you
      instead of growing on
      you………………………………………. Arlo however is
      VERY good, he knows a ton about the league, the history, etc. He
      doesn’t talk down on the league. He calls a great MLS player, a
      great player. He calls a great MLS team a great
      team………………….. I think he will do a fine
      job……………………The problem is that these networks don’t
      know soccer, don’t understand soccer, and so they go to a guy that
      knows football ( British soccer ) and ask them what to do……you
      end up with Harkes when you do that.

      • Charles says:

        I should have said you end up with Darke and Harkes when you do
        that, to be fair about it, shouldn’t I ? My word, I am starting to
        sound like them….

      • lysander says:

        agree! Arlo spends alot of time learning the game in the US and
        american vernacular and even asks players how they like their name
        pronounced and will work on saying that name 100′s of times to make
        sure he says it right when it counts (on air). He is a hard worker.

    • lysander says:

      Regardless of his nationality, Arlo is the best out there. Have you
      listened to him much?

  7. Jayoh says:

    Kudos to Arlo White…the guys a great announcer and a class act,
    he’ll definitely be missed here in Seattle.

  8. DCUdiplomat says:

    Man this Article has become more straight Eurosnob lust garbage,
    The author makes the article more like a cheerleading pledge for
    British broadcast bordorium. Hudson has been the long exception of
    the rule and situation Between British and American Soccer
    Announcers, Shoen Who has the longevity to match with Hudsons
    Emotion displayed in world reflects a well known American sport
    broadcasting combo in Summerall and Madden. NBC has failed to take
    advantage of such opportunity with the Schoen/Hudson Combo instead
    for More Boring British style of Announcers, Soon after they will
    learn when the Ratings drop.

    • SSReporters says:

      Wait, you talk about Eurosnobs and then ask to hire RAY HUDSON?!
      Hell, why stop there? Let’s go back to Dave O’brien and Marcelo
      Balboa! Keep it American!

      • DCUdiplomat says:

        RAY hudson is the exception in these cases because Ray Hudson Has
        the ingredients That can Be more comparable to Madden and hudson Is
        More American Friendly Audience wise

  9. I agree that NBC made a big mistake in going with British accent
    for broadcasts.

  10. tlas says:

    Well, they got what would be the best announcer available right
    now. Still, they have to have a couple of more people to announce
    other games in their package. Some have speculated that Phil Schoen
    and Ray Hudson should make the move. However, I kinda like them
    right now on GolTV. I still can dig the idea of Hudson on NBC
    Sports Network. At least he’ll provide some entertainment whenever
    a couple of games turn out to be dull.

  11. The original Tom says:

    American TV should go with British commentators for tennis and the
    NFL as well. Americans talk too much.

  12. td jakes says:

    Arlo is boring and it has nothing to do with him being British. I
    actually prefer most British voices to their American counterparts
    at the moment because they typically have more experience at
    calling a game of soccer. I just find Arlo overrated. Dellacamera
    is good and should have a job somewhere, but there are better
    options for the main voice of MLS. Adrian Healy w/ Glenn Davis
    would be the best I can come up with for MLS coverage at the
    moment. Twellman will be an upgrade from Harkes, but so would just
    about anybody.

  13. aki (@theakinet) says:

    LOL! So it’s bad for America/Canada to “be like Europe” when it
    comes to our soccer pyramids…but we should “be like Europe” with
    everything else. IE the superficial stuff like “supporters’ groups”
    and announcers and franchise names. Oh God what a Mickey Mouse
    League.

  14. aki (@theakinet) says:

    “Major League Soccer has thrived as they’ve adopted European
    strategies, whether it be catering to independently-organized
    Supporters Groups, building soccer-specific stadiums, or allowing
    big spending on foreign talent in certain cases.” Galaxy spent only
    $14.7M this year according to Grant Wahl. That’s what Libertadores
    level Latin teams spend on transfer fees.

    • DCUdiplomat says:

      Some MLS Franchise Strived to cater to the eurosnobs. I’m sorry the
      league isn’t. Gonna succeed pleasing the eurosnobs

      • Alex says:

        Seattle Sounders FC used a european model to structure the club and
        look how powerful sounders is. fact of the matter is its not just
        europe its the entire world. if it aint broke dont fix it and it
        works all over the world. americans need to drop the arrogant act
        as if americans do everything right and need to eat a piece of
        humble pie. not everything from europe works for mls but
        americanizing MLS is even worse.

    • Charles says:

      A guy with half a brain would have given up on the first bad
      attempt. I guess half a brain doesn’t apply.

  15. John says:

    All of you make some sense. American speech is not literary and
    maybe some are intimidated by expressions they don’t understand.
    But why do the people who insist on British announcers sometimes
    seem more intent on excluding people who enjoy the game in a
    different way. It seems absurd to insist on calling the field “the
    pitch” or speed “pace” or health “fitness.” The British expressions
    have a nice ring to them but it is fascist to insist that other
    Americans use them too.Some American announcers parrot the Brittish
    to an embarrassing degree – why not get the Real McCoy? Kevin
    Calabro is an American announcer that I appreciate. He called my
    Seattle Supersonics back when Kemp and Payton were in their prime
    and has called the NBA on TNT. He called Sounders games during the
    1st season before Arlo came along. Many of the skills and tactics
    of both basketball and football are similar. Boxing out for a
    rebound is very much like winning a header from a long ball.
    Imagine Rodman and Drogba going at it or John Stockton and Fabregas
    splitting defences with their assists? Maybe basketball announcers
    would make a more natural transition to calling football matches.

    • Charles says:

      Calabro is the best/most talented announcer of any sport when he
      does basketball, and he does a fine job at football too, but he
      didn’t commit to soccer enough. And I think he would have been a
      GREAT soccer announcer had they give him time and he give effort
      back in return………………..but you have to admit the he was
      nowhere even close to prepared like Arlo was for every
      game?…………………………………… I do agree with you
      about basketball announcers or other sport announcers, not like
      there are a ton of American guys that have actually annouced a
      soccer game, but I think you need the next Calabro, a young
      semi-discovered guy announcing a game on ESPNU, who probably grew
      up with soccer, rather than moving over a Marv Albert and praying
      he cares and can learn.

  16. Alan Higgins says:

    I just checked out some of his announcing on YouTube and I have to
    say that he sounds like he has a lot of passion for the MLS. That
    is the type of announcer I think that MLS needs more of, no matter
    what their accent is. As long as they are not constantly talking
    about the Premier League during game play, I don’t think it should
    matter about the accent. Oh, and Ray Hudson would be horrible for
    MLS. His metaphors are too out of control.

    • lysander says:

      I have not heard him mention european leagues much at all unless it
      is directly relating to the game in a non contrived fashion.

    • Charles says:

      If he interrupts the game for talk, he will talk about something
      relevant, like a goal scored by a player when he played for a
      USL/NASL team. Forcing casual fan Euro soccer talk on you is not
      something he will do…..You will be very happy with him.

  17. Brian says:

    If you don’t think White is a good broadcaster, say why. But to
    dismiss someone solely because of his accent is the sort of
    xenophobic garbage we should be working to keep out of the sport in
    this country. This is one element of European soccer we should NOT
    be emulating. Soccer is a multiethnic, cosmopolitan sport…
    possibly nowhere more so than here in the United States. There is
    no doubt that some American soccer fans swoon over an English
    accent. If someone has such an accent, he must, by definition, know
    more about the game than any American alive. This is a mindless
    bunch of crap. But going the opposite direction, bashing someone
    solely because of his accent, is equally a mindless bunch of crap.
    America claims to be a meritocracy. Let’s act like one. Arlo White
    is an excellent announcer and deserves the job.

  18. Dave C says:

    Never heard of him. I hope he isn’t one of those guys who are hired
    solely on the basis of their accent and “eccentric/zany” (i.e.
    annoying) character, rather than their actual ability to analyse
    and inform (cough cough, Hudson and Tommy Smythe)…

  19. tlas says:

    For those who can’t get enough of Arlo White, an interview of him
    by TBSS, put up today by NASN:
    http://nasn.tv/2011/the-best-soccer-show-episode-16/

  20. rtisch says:

    I will insist for forever and a day, Mike Emrick should be the
    voice of MLS on NBC.

  21. Frank Box says:

    hey guys, was Harkes really that bad? i mean he never really
    annoyed me, i thought he was decent ….and i know he was only
    about 3 years into this type of work….was any sucessful analyst
    ever that great right off the bat? i hear a lot of people say they
    didnt like him, but can you give me some reasons? also, even if i
    was to agree with some of your reasons, replacing him with this cat
    seems to be a step backwards…..imo …any thoughts?

    • Lysander says:

      It is not a step backwards. He is a great announcer. I can hardly
      stand any sports announcers and have a hard time even admitting one
      is not bad. So when I say Arlo is great it is really something.

  22. bill says:

    Someone mentioned Mark Rogondino of the Galaxy. He’s been
    announcing soccer for nearly 11 years and has an outstanding
    knowledge of the game. His pronunciation of names is flawless and
    is fluent in spanish as well. Arlo has a great grasp of the english
    language and the sport. However I, like many of you, think that
    bringing in european announcers is like saying soccer in america
    hasn’t arrived and we need the help of the Brits, etc.

  23. jay says:

    I would love to see the likes of Andy Grey, Derek Rae, Tommy Smyth
    as announcers…they have amazing insight and elevate the viewing
    experience. Many of the American announcers are just bland and seem
    to be too passive. A perfect combo right now is Martin Tyler and
    Gary Neville.

  24. Steve says:

    I found this site looking for links for the search “arlo white is an awful commentator”. Trust me, he is. In the UK we have another commentator called John Motson who is the epitome of spouting utter irrelevant nonsense during a game and White is following in his footsteps. The guy’s a clown, but he’s very much in keeping with the demise of class football commentating which has been in decline for many, many years. Personally, I don’t think the English have a place poking their nose into the non-playing side of MLS. Equally, the Americans shouldn’t be given the opportunity to pontificate on a sport they clearly don’t get, the EPL. Sound harsh? Would an American audience take seriously an English voice during an NFL game? Kyle Martino spouting his crap on NBCSN is excruciatingly painful. For an alleged analyst, he’s is woeful and how much more product could he get in his hair? Jeez. Football has its own vernacular and trying to Americanize it is just plain wrong. It’s a “passage of play” not a “play”. It’s a “shot on goal” not “shot on frame”. It’s a “commentary” not a “call”. It’s “offside” not “offsides”. The list goes on. This may be acceptable in MLS, but grown up proper football doesn’t need it.

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