In just two days, the World Cup kicks off from the (hopefully) completed Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo with Brazil against Croatia in the opening game. Ian Darke and Steve McManaman will call the match on ESPN. Here introductions to ESPN’s six play-by-play men for the tournament, along with snippets on analysts and studio hosts.
Ian Darke – Much has been said and written about Darke, who completed a rather remarkable journey to the top of the American soccer broadcasting mountain by unseating Martin Tyler as ESPN’s lead commentator for this World Cup.
Darke’s easy affability and charm make him a joy to listen to, and his commentary has only gotten better over the last ten years. Darke has always been quality, but if you go back and compare his commentary on the world feed at the 2002 World Cup, for instance, to his commentary today you’ll notice marked improvement.
Simply put, Darke is in the form of his life right now, with something of a dream job.
Darke will call all USA matches with Taylor Twellman, and all England matches with McManaman. Darke will have around 18 games to work in the tournament, including the final. What will be interesting to see is who his partner is for those latter games – ESPN might want to play that assignment by ear. Darke, on the other hand, is the undisputed #1.
Jon Champion – When ESPN made the decision to let Tyler go for this tournament, they knew they were going to need a top announcer to pair with Darke. Jon Champion is the man.
Judging by his early assignments, which include Spain – Netherlands and Germany – Portugal, Champion the clear #2 announcer, and he looks a good bet to work the semi-final and third-place game down the road.
Champion has worked World Cup Finals in the past, and is one of the best and most respected commentators in the game. He has been paired with Stuart Robson, and will mostly focus on European teams. Champion, who is impeccably prepared for each game he works, is a slam-dunk for ESPN who makes this roster of talent even better than the one ESPN took to South Africa.
Adrian Healey – Speaking of affability, Healey is possibly the most gregarious and funniest commentator ESPN has, and is a familiar voice from his years of work on the network.
Healey has worked the last two World Cups for ESPN and not made it out of the group stage, and it he appears to be a bit of a handyman for this tournament as well. Healey is set to work four games in the first week with three different partners, including Twellman – who he is familiar with from their MLS coverage – Alejandro Moreno, and Efan Ekoku.
Healey isn’t nearly as polished as many of ESPN’s other announcers, and his calling card is his enthusiasm during games. Healey tells a good story, but his games often feature a lot of dead air. In any case, Healey is a fun commentator, and all of his games thus far feature South American or African teams.