I was pondering doing this, but kind of dreading it at the same time, but then a commenter also suggested it (in kind of a dick way, I might add. But that's why we like you guys. You're dicks.) and it suddenly seemed like The Right Thing To Do.
So, let's get crackin'.
I should mention before I slag everyone who has been my TV universe for the past week or so that at least, at least, ESPN managed to find guys who seem like they actually like the game. They might not understand the nuances, but at least they enjoy it. That's a step in somewhat of a correct direction.
It should be noted that we actually haven't heard one of the announcing pairs yet. ESPN informs me that Rob Stone and Robin Fraser are set to debut on Friday. Rob has been covering soccer for years, more as a features guy than a commentary guy, but he's reasonably familiar with the sport. Fraser I've never heard cover a game, but he played the game and retired fairly recently. He may have actual insights. One can dare to dream, I suppose.
Dave O'Brien & Marcelo Balboa--Balboa seemed like a jumpy goofy mess the first time I heard him comment on a game. They had him doing a sideline/color role, like a skinny Siragusa. It doesn't work with Fat Tony in the NFL, and it didn't work for Balboa. But now that he's in the booth, he seems to have calmed down a bit, though he and Dave still seem to talk over one another. I think the solution to this problem is to cut fucking O'Brien's mic already. O'Brien's major problem is that he doesn't seem to understand the nature of the game. And why should he, he just added soccer to his duties THIS YEAR. I think he has studied up on the fundamentals, and can recognize a bad touch when he sees one, or receives one. But he seems to think that if a favored team is taking their time that they are lost, instead of being patient. Favored teams in Dave's world, I think, should simply throttle teams 6-0 every game. I know he doesn't truly believe this, but he talks like he does. It gets annoying. Quickly. He has a tendency to overreact to hits, whether legal or illegal. There are times you can hear in Balboa's words an implicit "Calm the fuck down, Dave, and let me explain" tone that I find somewhat entertaining. Dave is also one of the biggest violators of the "Let Me Explain it To You in American Sporting Terms." When someone cracks a shot from fucking 30 yards out and it hits the crossbar so hard the entire fucking goal rattles? That is not like a 3 pointer, Dave! Just stop it. People who aren't watching soccer for the first time are not going to be sold on it because of how helpful the commentary was in comparing it to American sports. Stop it.
I've heard worse than this pair, but I've heard much, much better, too.
Adrian Healey & Tommy Smyth--Thus far, the class of the group, and completely coincidentally, the only all foreign pairing. Adrian & Tommy sound like they are having a good time together, actually enjoy working together, and are a bit insightful. Smyth has been covering soccer for as long as I can remember. I heard him first in college, which means he's been at it for at least 10 years, and probably much longer. I don't know Healey, but he comes out that English school of commentating where it is OK to say things like, "And that's just a horrible job of marking right there." The American play-by-play guys are so new to the game that they don't feel comfortable pointing out anything but the most egregiously violent tackles. And half the time, they are reacting to flops. These guys are both kind of color men, and they pace their commentary in a very conversational way. I've found myself laughing at their back and forth a few times the past week, in a good way. Imagine laughing with the guys working the game, instead of at them! What a novel idea. Maybe, ESPN, next time a World Cup rolls around, you can hire people with experience! And covering the MLS does not count, by the by. More pairs like this one, please.
JP Dellacamera and John Harkes--JP has been doing soccer work for ESPN for years now. I like him better now than when he was partnered up with Ty Keough (who has thankfully, finally been put away, hopefully forever) but that is not saying all that much. JP still doesn't seem to have any sort of intuition about the game, and I think ESPN is hoping Harkes can cover those deficiences. I saw a fine example of how it can be impossible for Harkes to cover some things though. In the Sweden vs. Trinidad game, towards the end of what would be the 0-0 tie, Trinidad got the ball up to the corner flag in Sweden's defense. One of their strikers got to the ball, and quckly shielded it from the defender. A classic, old as time manuever to run some clock off. JP didn't seem to pick up on that, and called the action like the Trinidadian was trapped and was running out of time to score. There's no subtle way for Harkes to correct that, so he just let it slide. Nothing too egregiously awful about these guys, really. Just somewhat distracting. Harkes knows his shit, but I find it a bit eerie that he sounds exactly like Eric Wynalda. I also question the wisdom of having a guy making his commentary debut at the World Cup. Are there not veteran color commentators? Or do they all sound too foreign? I wonder if ESPN's plan to make soccer more marketable included a focus group of fat white dudes in their 50's who complained about the announcers sounding too queer? Man, I'd bet the ranch it did.
Glenn Davis & Shep Messing--I'm looking at these guys' bios and I'm confounded. Davis played soccer professionally and has been making a living talking about soccer for about 15 years. Shep Messing played with the Cosmos and has been commentating since '86 in Mexico. They are one of the most expereinced duos ESPN has. Which begs the question. Why do they suck so fucking bad? I had assumed Glenn Davis had never seen soccer before after listening to him during their first game. For those of you who may have blocked it out, that game was the Argentina vs. Cote d'Ivoire match, which was a great match. But Shep almost made it into a 90 minute elegy on the cost of war in Africa. I mean, yes, we know, team came together and the country declared a truce, and that' s amazing. It becomes less amazing when you mention it every five fucking minutes. Brutal, just brutal. And then came the Japan/Australia match, where Shep seemed to take it personally that Japan scored a goal that he thought should be disallowed (I disagree, by the by). He showed none of that pain when Tim Cahill took down a Japanese striker in the box for what should have been his second yellow card. Cahill goes on to score two goals, and all Shep can do is scream about how Australia deserved the win, because Japan's goal was bullshit? Craziness! And then, yesterday, Saudi Arabia vs. Tunisia. How many times was Shep going to mention that the Saudi Arabians renovated a hotel in Germany so they could get rid of all the booze? Hey, there's a soccer game going over there--maybe you guys shoudl talk about THAT. And finally, Shep, if you are going to use the word "huge" to describe every single event on the pitch or off, you could please start pronouncing the "h" in there? Tunisia's comeback was not "yooge", nor was Saudi Arabia getting a point "yooge". "Huge" is also a pretty unhelpful adjective. Shep reminds me of Dick Vitale. And that's all that needs to be said, yeah?
As you can see, Shep makes me need to vent my spleen, and I have barely weighed in on Glenn Davis. And there's plenty to say there, too. Like I said, he comes across as a neophyte. To find out that he's been covering and playing soccer for 30 years is quite shocking to me. I'm stunned. He seems easily confused by the action on the field, he seems prone to offering the kind of vague insights that someone might have given him a list of. "Shep, they just aren't looking very imaginative out there." That means nothing! Nothing at all! I find these guys almost impossible to listen to. And I've seen rooms of people spend 15 minutes looking for an alternative audio feed over the internet rather than listen to them, so I know it isn't just me.
I'll free feel to add more atrocities as they come, but for now, I'm all angered out. And really, to be fair, an American accent over soccer coverage in general I find grating. And I'm an American, and don't mind it in baseball(Bert Byleven, yay!) or NFL or basketball (except that Bill Walton must fall over and die). But soccer, I'm used to hearing English guys saying things like, "Oh, and the last man you want taking a penalty kick is Clarence Seedorf." That's what soccer is supposed to sound like. So I may be unfair a bit in my assessment. That said, Glenn and Shep truly, righteously, suck. Suck with a wild abandon that I'm pretty sure is illegal in most states. Nevada is probably the only place that welcomes sucking of that magnitude.