Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


MORE REASON TO KILL THE PENALTY-KICK TIEBREAKER

Canada eked out a 1-0 victory over Mexico in Costa Rica to win the 2010 CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championship.  Both finalists earned berths in the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup, to be held later this year in Trinidad & Tobago.  The United States defeated the host Costa Ricans, 6-0, in the third-place match but became the first American women’s team at any level to fail to qualify for a world championship tournament.  [March 20]

Comment: For those who find penalty kicks to be the worst possible way to settle a match, this tournament serves as more fuel for your fire.  The U.S. entered its semifinal showdown with Canada having crushed Haiti, 9-0; Cayman Islands, 13-0; and Costa Rica, 10-0.  The Canadians defeated Jamaica, 4-1; Panama, 2-1; and Mexico, 1-0.  Although the Americans would end the competition with a goals for-against of 38-0, they couldn’t manage one against Canada and fell on PKs, 5-3, following a scoreless draw.  True, the U.S. tempted fate by allowing the game to go to a spot-kick duel, but in the end, the undefeated Americans (4-0-1), runners-up at the inaugural Women’s U-17 World Cup in 2008, stay home while Canada and 3-2-0 Mexico move on.

NO SOCCER TO BE SEEN THROUGH TINTED WINDOWS

Quote of the Week, supplied by basketball star Kobe Bryant, in an interview with Sports Illustrated:  ” . . . It’s been a long time since I played (soccer).  When I was in Italy, I used to play every single day.  Here in the States you don’t have a chance to play that much.  It’s not like you’re driving down the street and you see pickup soccer games.”  [March 15]

Comment: Bryant works in Los Angeles, the most diverse metropolis in the world, not to mention the second-largest Spanish-speaking city in the Northern Hemisphere.  He won’t spot any pickup soccer games in L.A. until windows are installed in his limousine.

ESPN/ABC GIVES ITS WORLD CUP TELECASTS AN EXCLUSIVELY BRITISH ACCENT

ESPN/ABC unveiled an all-British slate of play-by-play announcers to call its 2010 World Cup telecasts.  Joining the previously announced Martin Tyler are fellow Englishmen Ian Darke and Adrian Healy and Scotsman Derek Rae.  Former U.S. captain John Harkes and ex-Nigerian international Efan Ekoku are among the color commentators.  The network’s lead American announcer, JP Dellacamera, will be teamed with Irish analyst Tommy Smyth on ESPN Radio.  [March 5]

Comment: After three decades of remarkable progress, ESPN turns the soccer clock in this country back with a violent twist, returning us to the 1970s and ’80s, when there were, more or less, two kinds of people carrying the soccer banner in this country:  Americans and Brits.  A majority–or at least a plurality–of the coaches and front office executives in the NASL were British.  And that league, led by a Welsh commissioner, was criticized for loading its team rosters with players from the English second and third divisions.  The country’s most prominent soccer columnist and TV analyst was the same person, Englishman Paul Gardner.  On the grassroots level, as the joke went, when there was a rare paid coaching position open, an English or Scottish accent got you the job.

Fortunately, the Colonists have since learned to crawl, walk and run on a soccer pitch, er, field.  The nation once known for turning out acrobatic but naive goalkeepers and hard-nosed but inartful defenders but nothing more has for years produced strikers, playmakers, coaches, referees, journalists and, yes, broadcasters.  Along the way it’s hosted a hugely successful World Cup and will soon appear in its sixth straight World Cup, a claim no member of the U.K. can make.  Yet according to ESPN/ABC, apparently we need our friends from across the Pond to hold our hand once more.

Ratings that have grown with each World Cup since ESPN/ABC first got its feet wet with USA ’94 (without commercial interruption, thank you) have convinced  the network that it has a chunk of programming with tremendous potential that must be treated seriously.  To wit, 165 staffers–double the number that helped cover Germany ’06–will be on the job for South Africa ’10, and ESPN2 will go all-soccer in the 24 hours leading up to the June 11 opener.  But to go all-Brit in the broadcast booth suggests a gross overreaction to ESPN/ABC’s failed experiment of four years ago, when it again passed over American soccer play-by-play men and anointed Dan (The Baseball Man) O’Brien as its lead announcer.

Unlike O’Brien, this all-Brit quartet is knowledgeable, not to mention articulate, something casual soccer fans and the curious who tune in will find refreshing,  having lived on a steady diet of NFL and NBA announcers all these years.  But for those who will watch as many of the 64 matches as possible, ESPN/ABC’s bold move will wear thin by the end of the first round.  Back in ’94, when the droll, likeable Darke was the only non-American in any ESPN or ABC booth, he came off as a terrific change of pace.  This time, we’ll get a wall-to-wall month of mouth-watering cup ties, perfectly weighted balls, ungainly challenges, goalkeepers who spill the ball, defenders who are wrong-footed, tripped up attackers who go to ground, penalty-kick takers who make no mistake, marksmen in form who score a brace of goals and cover themselves in glory, shots denied by the foot of the post, talismanic captains, and teams that run out winners, not to mention words like “strip” (not uniform), “pace” (not speed), and “scoreline” (not score, fer cryin’ out loud).  There’s also “All to play for,” “There for the taking,” “Put paid to their account,” “Only just,” but that’s piling on.

Ironically, the commentary will be delivered in the typically understated British style.  (Think “Thoughtful ball,” or “A bit ambitious.”)  If there was any one complaint against American announcers in the past it was that they didn’t have the passion of their Spanish-language counterparts.  That  means a frantic, radio play-by-play style that, delivered in English, would have had those same American viewers reaching for the mute button after five minutes.

ESPN/ABC would have done better to give us a mix–at least handing the minimum three games involving the U.S. National Team to Dellacamera, the fellow who called all of the USA’s matches during the long qualifying campaign and, obviously, knows the team best.  How ESPN/ABC’s gambit pans out remains to be seen.  The first real test will come June 12, with the Group “C” opener between the U.S. and England in Rustenburg.  If the U.S. is somehow ahead at the final whistle, we’ll see if the mood eminating from the booth is “USA Wins!” or a sullen “England Loses.”

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