Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


JOHNNY, WE HARDLY KNEW YE

ESPN reportedly has dropped John Harkes as its color commentator for its U.S. National Team and Major League Soccer telecasts and will be replaced by former New England Revolution star Taylor Twellman.  According to SI.com, Harkes, who was in the booth for ESPN’s coverage of the 2011 MLS Cup final, recently was informed that his contract would not be renewed.  [November 21]

Comment:  The search goes on for the complete package:  an American soccer color commentator who is quick, witty, insightful and a true complement to his play-by-play partner.

During his Hall of Fame career, Harkes, a two-time World Cup veteran, became known among media members as a good interview, the guy with a quick quip or an amusing impersonation.  As an ex-U.S. captain, he seemed to be an obvious choice as a TV soccer analyst.  Unfortunately, Harkes’ personality never came across on air.  He was very good at pointing out coaching points to youth players, but otherwise to Harkes there were just two aspects to soccer:  things that were “difficult” and things that were “important.” 

We’ve hardly seen the last of Harkes.  He’s been providing commentary since 2002, and with ABC/ESPN, NBC/NBC Sports and Fox/Fox Soccer Channel battling for soccer programming, there’ll be a need for experienced name analysts.  Viewers, however, are waiting for someone better.

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CHAMPION OF THE OLYMPICS, SANS SOCCER

Jonah J. “Bud” Greenspan, whose soaring documentaries lifted the Olympic Games to near-mythical status for a generation of Americans, died in New York City at age 84. 

Greenspan began his filmmaking career in 1952 with a 15-minute feature on a U.S. gold medalist in weightlifting and went on to win a long string of honors for his work, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of America and a Peabody Award for “distinguished and meritorious public service.”   He collected his first Emmy for The Olympiad, a 22-hour documentary featuring Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin that debuted in 1976 and was aired in 80 countries.

In 1985, in presenting Greenspan the Olympic Order award, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch proclaimed, “Mr. Greenspan has been called the foremost producer, writer and director of Olympic films; more than that, he is an everlasting friend of the Olympic family.”  [December 25]

Comment:  No one individual not connected with a major American television network deserves more credit than Greenspan for planting the irresistable falsehood in the United States that the Olympics are the be-all and end-all in international sport.  Combine Greenspan’s well-crafted documentaries with the power of ABC Sports and, later, NBC Sports, and it was made clear to Americans that nothing in sports can stop traffic in Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, London, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Rome, Madrid, Mexico City, Seoul, Tehran, etc., etc., etc., like an Olympics (a winter Olympics included). 

Greenspan had no time for the money-spinner of every summer Olympics, the soccer tournament.  He had no interest in the filled stadiums and compelling story lines offered by Olympic soccer, so thanks to him and Roone Arledge of ABC and, later, Dick Ebersol of NBC, about a quarter century of quality soccer exposure in the U.S. was lost.  That is why today there remains a whole host of Americans with a slight relationship with soccer who still believe it would be much, much more noteworthy for USA men or women to win an Olympic gold in soccer than capture a World Cup.