As U.S. soccer fans look to World Cup 2014, some of us are concerned not about uncovering a striker with touch but a play-by-play announcer with an American accent.
This is not to disparage England's Ian Darke and Martin Tyler, whom ESPN shrewdly corralled to call the games from South Africa. They are beyond splendid. With his plangent tones, Tyler (below) made David Villa's goal for Spain against Portugal sound like a soliloquy from Hamlet. They are, to use a phrase booted around throughout the tournament, quality.
Their brilliance comes at a price, though: For many, the game on TV still sounds foreign. There are Yanks, such as JP Dellacamera (ESPN's radio voice) and Dave O'Brien, who have been tried on the tube and, for various reasons (some unfathomable), have been found wanting.
American announcers, many of whom never played the game and did not spend their formative years watching it, have attempted everything to get up to speed, including standing for hours on the sidelines of their kids' youth soccer leagues. But naturally their ability to call the action pales beside the erudition of their British counterparts, who grew up breathing the Premier League and the English lower divisions.
That's the nub. Rather than trying to force-feed a big name with a Berlitz course in the Beautiful Game, ESPN should begin now to bring someone carefully up through the minors. Perhaps the network should arrange to install a likely prospect in England for a season at a lower-division team. There, he (or she) could breathe the game while acquiring these fundamentals:
• Soccer chops.
Particularly the phraseology: pace, work rate, hand ball, the woodwork. But (and this is important) avoid referring to nations in the plural: "Spain are going through." By season's end, problems should be nil.
• A distinctive "gooaaaallll" call.
Let's face it, this is the equivalent of our home run call.
• A verbal rhythm.
Even announcing fast-paced sports such as basketball and hockey might not be adequate preparation. Soccer does not typically have the end-to-end action that those games do. Accordingly, the best announcers, when painting a picture, take an impressionistic approach. They also have the knack of conversing chattily until the play begins to build.
For a U.S. announcer to take a lead role on TV, he must be recognized by the international soccer community. By 2014 we'll expect one of our folks to have achieved such recognition. Of course, he'll have to be quality.
The Pop Culture Grid
Athletes in the mix
Favorite poolside drink
Soccer in America is ...
Sunscreen SPF I use
National League, or American?
California Girls tune: Beach Boys' or Katy Perry's?
CRISTIE KERR LPGA No. 1
A Cosmo (while not wearing a bikini)
Getting more popular
70 or above
American. Go, Yankees!
CARL EDWARDS NASCAR
The coconut water thing
There's about to be a bunch of kids named Landon
American. I'm a Red Sox guy
CHRIS PONTIUS United M/F
Lemonade with ice
Growing ... and with an exciting future
Not very much; I'm from California
American. I'm an Angels fan
IKE DAVIS Mets 1B
Ice cold Bud Light
Growing. It's a beautiful game
High as possible. I'm very white
National. That's my league!
UNCLE SAM WANTS YOU FOR PLAY-BY-PLAY
Inside the Grid
Are the vibrations from Katy Perry's current hit California Gurls as good as those of the iconic California Girls by the Beach Boys? Says Davis, "I have to go with the Beach Boys song, because it's a classic." But what does California boy Pontius (West Covina) think? "It's 50-50," he says. Groovy!
ELISE AMENDOLA/AP (TYLER)
HEADHUNTERS/GETTY IMAGES (UNCLE SAM)
MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES (BEACH BOYS)
ERICK W. RASCO (SUNSCREEN)
CHUCK SOLOMON (DAVIS)
OTTO GREULE JR./GETTY IMAGES (PONTIUS)
DARREN CARROLL (EDWARDS, KERR)