Hurrah for ESPN and its coverage of the World Cup!
Seriously. No sarcasm or snarkiness here at all. For a change.
I've already expressed appreciation for ESPN airing all of the games live — on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC.
And let's add a huge pat on the back for correcting the horrendous mistake of 2006 and actually giving us soccer sportscasters who know what they're talking about. And finally having enough respect for its viewers to realize we can indeed understand British accents.
Four years ago, ESPN saddled us with Dave O'Brien, who knew nothing about soccer when he was assigned as the lead play-by-play man for the World Cup. As I wrote at the time, he was a "hopelessly overmatched ... annoying buffoon."
That was harsh. Accurate, but harsh.
O'Brien was awful, but it was his bosses who made the mistake of giving him an assignment he was clearly not qualified to perform.
No such problem this time around, because ESPN imported play-by-play and color guys who actually know the game.
Listening to the likes of Martin Tyler, Adrian Healey, Derek Rae and Ian Darke has been absolutely smashing.
Four years ago, ESPN was still condescending to its own viewers. The theory was that we had to educated about soccer, and O'Brien was assigned as the lead schoolmaster.
Talk about uncertified teachers ...
The British announcers, on the other hand, don't assume we're stupid. They do a great job of telling us what's happening without explaining every obvious detail of the game.
And they haven't been hesitant to criticize players, coaches and officials. Darke was unflinching in his criticism of the officiating in the USA-Slovenia and USA-Algeria games, using words like "stupidest decision," "nightmare" and "horrible."
But he hasn't been a homer for Team USA, disputing analyst John Harkes' (an American) suggestion that one of Slovenia's goals might have been offside.
And, while it might be heresy to some, having Darke as the narrator of one of the greatest moments in U.S. soccer history — the Americans' stoppage-time goal to beat Algeria — was perfect casting.
"Goal! Goal USA! You couldn't have written a script like this," he exlaimed. "It's breathtakingly exciting. Hollywood couldn't better this."
Neither could ESPN.
EXACTLY RIGHT: I get paid to write about sports on TV, but sometimes my teenage son sums things up better than I can.
On the subject of ESPN's hiring of the Brits, he expressed pleasure that we wouldn't have to listen to American announcers talk about nothing.
"Well, I've heard British announcers yak it up when we watch EPL games on Fox Soccer Channel," I said.
"But they don't talk about what they had for lunch," he replied.
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