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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Landon Donovan Lands In Tampa, ESPN Coverage Needs A Boost

He has been an enigma veiled in a mystery. A young man with tremendous talent, but at times, a somewhat pedestrian attitude. At the age of 25, he has already played over 85 times for his national team, and competed in two World Cups. Today, with goals 28, 29, and 30, showed that he may be the best player this country has ever produced. Currently, he is tied with Brian McBride for the second best goal scorer in US history. Only Eric Wynalda, with 34, who ironically was commentating on this game for ESPN, stands in his way with the history books.

I think that the arrival of David Beckham will raise the game, attitude, and professionalism of Landon Donovan. He has always had the technical gifts; however, his commitment to the game has been the subject of many who follow the sport closely. Two failed attempts to ply his trade in Europe, especially after many Yanks Abroad have flourished, raised doubts about his attitude. "I like LA, playing for the MLS, and I'm happy." A big fish in a small soccer pond.

What I witnessed today, during a friendly in Tampa, Florida versus Ecuador, was the much anticipated arrival of a man who could lead the USA to glory. Under the brief tenure of Coach Bob Bradley, Donovan has become a more mature player. For that reason, along his his third consecutive success, Mr. Bradley should be named the permanent coach of the men's national team. The mark of a good coach is to push talented players, such as Donovan, to loftier plateaus.

Two negative notes about this game. 1) The USSF needs to play international games on regulation soccer fields. Not on gridiron football fields, three months after the Tampa Bay Bucs last played a game, with parts of the stripes or football grids still showing. Would the Tampa Bay Bucs ever play on a field with a prominent outline of a large center circle, or shadows of a goal box? When Manchester United visits to play a friendly in Tampa, do you think that the Glazer's will have them experience a pitch like we saw today? I witnessed similar scenes during the MLS Playoffs. I understand that teams share stadia; however, if we want the rest of the world to take us seriously, the field surfaces need to be uniform. Not remnants and/or reminders of the 1970s. When the NASL used to spray fields with green paint to hide the gridiron lines...

2) ESPN needs to educate Dave O'Brien, or replace him with a better soccer play-by-play announcer. He frequently makes references to other American sports, and non-soccer related things. He takes the decades old position that soccer has to be compared to baseball, Mom, and apple pie in order for the target audience to understand it. While he is absorbing the sport quickly, he is learning on other people's time and money. I prefer to watch Spanish language broadcasts, and would encourage ESPN to study their methods. Last summer in Germany, Univision telecast 64 games which drew more non-Hispanic viewers for their broadcasts than ABC/ESPN combined. Even in a different language, knowledgeable fans preferred a Spanish language broadcast. ESPN is a great resource for soccer in this country. Their Champions League coverage is excellent. Let us hope that they strive for further excellence covering our National Team.

Mr. O'Brien is a seasoned professional, and has significant experience and expertise with baseball. If I recall properly, he played soccer in high school or college. But ESPN needs to make a decision. The audience, contrary to what they want us to believe, is not all soccer moms, casual fans, or first-time viewers. Give Mr. O'Brien better training, and advise him not to make inappropriate references (Johnny Damon, Bruce Springsteen twice which irritated Bruce Arena, comparing Gooch Onyewu to an American football player that Arena also had to diffuse, and the somewhat inopportune comment about Bob Bradley coaching his son, Michael, when Bruce Arena was sitting 2 feet away from him. Arena's son, Kenny, never was capped at the senior level during his father's 8 year tenure with the National team.) Or bring in someone else to sail the ship. Because the quality in the play-by-play commentary needs to reflect the growing strides made on the pitch.

For me, Coach Bruce Arena has been an insightful analyst. Eric Wynalda also adds his own candid perspectives that are helpful, but sometimes controversial. But when I think of play-by-play, there is only one name: Andres Cantor.

1 comment:

wilablog said...

Couldn't agree more on the commentators. In fact, during the Guatemala match I believe I heard comparisons to golf, NASCAR, baseball, and maybe one other sport. These guys just need to tell me who is passing and who is receiving the ball. That would be a good start.

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