Fox Soccer Channel Needs To Step Up MLS Coverage
An irreverent look at FSC’s Game of the Week
Fox Soccer Channel announced last Monday that it had acquired the rights to broadcast the UEFA Champions League in the United States—a privilege held by ESPN since 1994.
FSC already provides extensive live coverage of English and Italian league matches, and is rightfully exalted for its promotion of soccer in North America, but the channel could provide a major boost to the league in its own backyard by improving its presentation of Major League Soccer.
Domestically, ESPN are blessed with the perceptiveness of former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder John Harkes who adds astute analysis to the experienced play-by-play commentary of J.P. Dellacamera.
The story is markedly different on FSC—as I was reminded during Saturday’s clash between Houston Dynamo and New York Red Bulls.
Commentators are efficacious when keeping a low profile. Soccer fans are largely a savvy crew with a deep knowledge of the game, meaning that perpetual chatter is not required—the game speaks for itself.
Cogent commentators enhance the viewing experience by punctuating the action with occasional facts, colourful statistics, or sound opinions on the tactical battle unfolding.
These are skills that FSC duo Max Bretos and Christopher Sullivan are a long way from mastering.
In fact, this duo could learn a lot from the punters on Sky Sports' Fanzone.
If there was a silver lining in the fourth minute collision between Red Bulls goalkeeper Danny Cepero and Dynamo forward Kei Kamara that saw the former depart the field with a concussion, it was that Bretos realised Cepero had been briefly keeping goal behind New York’s defence—the seemingly ubiquitous custodian having already been credited with a couple of smart saves from his own forwards some 110 yards away.
The perennially garrulous Sullivan shared his esteemed assessment of the incident and the medical team’s procedures.
What looked like two committed players throwing themselves bravely at Brad Davis’ inswinging free kick took on new light as he opined: “Kamara has to have a better coordination.” Quite.
“Christopher’s Keys” followed—a segment where the veteran of the USA’s 1990 World Cup team outlines his three strategies for both teams. Revelations need not apply.
Houston needed to “set the tone”—as the home team usually looks to do—while New York needed to “support the attack”—as any team usually looks to do.
Sullivan’s knack for depicting the obvious shone through when Juan Pietravallo was booked for a high kick into the face of Brad Davis. He informed viewers that: “This is a dangerous play. He kicks right into the face.”
What more that didn’t need to be said could be said?
As the first half continued, Sullivan treated his audience to his unique repertoire of soccer jargon. A forward making a yard of space to get a shot on goal makes a “separating movement”.
A wide midfielder skipping past the full-back makes a “little change of tempo to separate himself”. A counter-attack is a “transitional breakout”. Team-mates passing the ball around make a “transition”, occasionally known as a “collective transition”, or a “three-man combination” if involving a trio of team-mates.
Listening to his analysis reminds me of reading the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange—for a while you have absolutely no idea what language you are absorbing.
Dynamo striker Brian Ching had a rare chance to excite demoralised viewers on 36 minutes when he raced clear on substitute Alec Dufty’s goal despite appearing to be at least five yards offside.
The U.S. international could only lob the ball over the approaching stand and into the adjacent car park as the stalemate continued.
A reason for the dismal nature of the opening period was offered by Sullivan. He said of Houston’s struggles: “It’s been very vertical…the wide points have been tight…no fluidity in the combination play.” Enlightening stuff.
The show was somewhat rescued at half-time by the slick studio presentation of Todd Grisham—well-schooled in dealing with pantomime from his alternative employment with World Wrestling Entertainment—but it didn’t take long for the deterioration to set in again.
“Christopher’s Keys” to the second half saw Houston now needing “Higher Pressure” instead of simply “Pressure”, while it was the Red Bulls’ turn to “manage the tempo”.
Ching benefited from commentators’ licence when his routine cutback was eulogised by Sullivan: “He separates himself and has the presence of mind to play that back on a diagonal.”
Unfortunately, his strike partner Kamara could not get on the end of the cross with one of his “slashing runs”.
Bleakness turned to liveliness in the final 15 minutes when referee Hilario Grajeda issued two red cards. New York midfielder Carlos Johnson was dismissed for a late tackle on Geoff Cameron, while Dynamo substitute Mike Chabala followed for a recklessly enthusiastic lunge in stoppage time.
It was a rare occasion where a CONCACAF official was spot on with his decisions, but Bretos seemed unconvinced of Johnson’s dismissal.
He said: “When I first saw the challenge, I thought it was definitely a foul…possibly a yellow card…possibly a red card.” Nothing like keeping your options open.
As Red Bulls head coach Juan Carlos Osorio looked to reshuffle having already made his three substitutions, Bretos had me wondering whether a new ruling had been adopted by MLS.
“Osorio still has some wiggle room”, he told the nation. “The first substitution will not count as it was an injury to the goalkeeper.”
The situation was clarified moments later as Bretos announced: “I do apologise. New York are out of substitutions.”
It is doubtful whether Sage Sullivan pointed out the error of his colleague’s ways.
So a dreadful game came to a close—the 0-0 scoreline thankfully sparing us from Bretos’ trademark “Yaaaaaaaaay” shouts when a goal is scored—but the disappointment did not end there.
Osorio—one of the league’s more cerebral, tactically astute coaches—sullied his reputation with unnecessary and childish gesticulations to the home fans referencing his team’s 3-0 win at Houston in last year’s MLS play-offs.
Not that Bretos saw fit to criticise Osorio’s actions, as he gleefully told viewers that it was “almost worth watching the whole game just to see that”.
Please Max, leave such observations in the playground in future.
This article first appeared on www.hawksport.com.
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