Bringing on Tyler is huge, but ESPN should still seek out US talent

balboaobrien Unlike four years ago, ESPN is taking the world cup very very seriously. It is being reported that Martin Tyler was signed by ESPN to call the World Cup. The turn-around in ESPN’s attitude towards soccer is remarkable. Four years ago, ESPN’s ombudsman responded to all the complaints about their lead announcing team by simply saying that soccer fans were picky, now they signed the best English-language play-by-play guy in the world. There is plenty reason to get excited. America’s biggest sports media conglomerate is about to get soccer crazy – and what ESPN cares about, America tends to care about as well.

The signing of Martin Tyler should be greeted with joy and relief by anyone who will be in America during the world cup. You will not have to endure another Dave O’brien and Marcelo Balboa pairing and thank God for that. It was so bad that Lucky Bar in DC during the last world cup actually put on the Canadian non-HD feed so we didn’t have to listen to them – the bar approved unanimously. The idea that a baseball announcer – Dave O’brien – would be good at soccer was ludicrous. Baseball is about filling airtime not calling a fast moving and flowing game (that said: I actually thought O’Brien got better as the tournament went on and to me Balboa was the real dead weight. The man would contradict himself every other minute).

While the dream pairing will be Martin Tyler and Andy Gray (not sure if he has signed on again – he did the European championships for ESPN), I would like to see them mixed with some American talent. There is a real need for homegrown American soccer announcing talent and I hope ESPN doesn’t fully abandon its approach of bringing on American announcers. The key however is to bring on people with some experience or at the very least comparable announcing skills.

I think John Harkes has gotten much better as a US color commentator over the last couple years and deserves to provide the commentary for US games – he knows the U.S. team better than most and he has shown a willingness to criticize players when they aren’t playing well. While I probably would personally rather here Tyler and Gray during US games, largely because they are more neutral observers, I think it is good for the casual American fan to have at least one American in the booth, demonstrating that this isn’t just a foreigners game. I wouldn’t mind seeing Tyler and Harkes call US games (SI reports that ESPN is considering using Tyler for the US games), while Tyler and Gray team up for the finals, semis, and other big non-US games. I also don’t think JP Delacamera has done a bad job as well, he isn’t world class, but he follows the game and is much better than O’Brien.

There are also some good local MLS announcers that could be used for some of the group stage games. Among the better play-by-play guys is Phil Shoen of Gol Tv – like Delecamera he is not world class, but he is knowledgeable and is able to read the game. I think ESPN would be wise to start expanding their soccer broadcasting rolodex. But if ESPN, instead of adding more announcers, is looking to add a portfolio to ones already on the books than they should first look to hockey play-by-play guys, rather than baseball, basketball or football. One person who I think would be outstanding at calling games is Gary Thorne. He has got a great voice and as a hockey announcer the speed of soccer would not be a problem.

Another big big addition, even though he isn’t in the both, is Bob Ley. He has long been a big soccer guy and the fact that he will anchor the coverage – much the way I think Costas and Jim Nantz do the Olympics – will add a degree of professionalism and sophistication often sorely lacking in American soccer coverage. The coverage of the Costa Rica game was outstanding and was by far the most professional coverage I have ever seen of a non-world cup USA game.

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3 Responses

  1. […] because we were impossible to please. Now, ESPN has bought the rights to Premier League games, it signed Martin Tyler to announce the World Cup and has significantly upgraded and professionalized its coverage of soccer. While soccer is still […]

  2. The EPL announcers do a great job at following the flow of the game and focusing on the soccer. The MLS/ESPN style announcers just babble on about whatever pops in their head — like they’re sitting on the couch at home bantering with each other.

    One of the very worst things about American soccer, and MLS in particular, is the horrible job the announcers do. MLS announcers remind me of this old saying: “The wise man speaks because because he has something to say, the fool speaks to say something.” MLS style commentators follow the part of the fool…

    Btw, I am an American and a big U.S. soccer supporter. But our announcers are just horrible…

  3. Je trouve ca supers, merci pour ce tres bon post !

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