Baseball, football, basketball, and hockey fans turned their attention to the pitch in South Africa this past week to witness one of the more improbable runs in sports.
Had the US team held their 2-0-halftime lead, it could have been even more surprising than the Giants' 2007-08 Super Bowl run. It even surpasses the Rockies road to the World Series in 2007.
ESPN was front and center to capitalize on the US national soccer team's success, and they did pretty well.
First, we start with the pre-game.
Rece Davis did a competent job as the studio host guiding along the pre-game to the FIFA Confederation Cup Final. He had some pretty good tidbits. My favorite actually being from halftime, when he gave the stat on the US being 98-1 when leading at halftime since 1993 (the one loss coming against Italy in the first game of this year’s Confederation Cup).
Davis also held a pretty fluent conversation with Alexi Lalas on what the USA had to do to stay in the game.
Speaking of Lalas, he is the best American soccer analyst out there, period.
He doesn’t have the best voice, but he provides excitement and makes good points through well-constructed sentences. He does have his occasional mumbles or “uhs”, but that comes with almost any athlete that is an analyst.
Lalas gave a realistic state of the union for US soccer after the match. He appealed to both new and old fans that the team is in the right direction, but still hasn't fully arrived.
The Brazil match proved that.
He said that US fans, players, and coaches should expect the US to compete like they did against Brazil every game.
That is a pretty accurate statement.
The US needs to start competing in these games before they can consistently win them. This group of players showed they can compete, and the next step is to show they can win.
That chance won’t come until they are in South Africa 347 days from now.
Once the game kicked-off, the quality of the commentary did not drop. JP Dellacamera is the best American play-by-play announcer for soccer. He gets the game of soccer much unlike Dave O’Brien, who called many of the important US games in years past.
JP is in tune with the linguistics of the game, such as “Dempsey has a go” and “Clark got stuck in there”. He can identify subtle, important play unlike most American soccer announcers.
Dellacamera identified Jonathan Spector’s great one on one defense on Kaka and Robinho, one of the more underrated aspects of the match.
Dellacamera reset the situation and magnitude of the game for the viewer every fifteen minutes. This reminds viewers of what the situation is, intensifying the moment, but also frequently informing new viewers who just tuned in what’s going on.
JP did mess up in two spots.
The first was not stating the referee’s name (Martin Hansson) after Brazil’s first yellow card. The viewer wants to know who and where the person giving the card is from.
He messed up talking about Spector’s injury plagued seasons in the EPL, saying he had a leg problem and a “concussion problem”, a rare misspeak from Dellacamera.
Some criticize JP for not being excited enough during the first US goal. That is because he knows soccer.
He was excited, but only to a certain point. He has to convey to fans what he knows: there is a ton of time left for Brazil to score and still win, which they did.
John Harkes is the one weaker aspects to ESPN’s coverage of this monumental match in US soccer history. He just speaks too much and pauses too often.
Because of his pauses, his commentary is often just a string of words, at times confusing the listener. Harkes knows his stuff, but has not figured out how to convey that on television.
Harkes' best analysis comes when JP prods him with a question like he did at the end of the first half on Feilhaber’s play, and after Brazil’s first goal on the quickness of Fabiano’s strike.
Harkes was the first to say how the quick 2-1 score line would affect US's chances moving forward in the match, something coach Bob Bradley and Landon Donavon echoed in post match interviews.
Every so often, Harkes does make great points on his own as he accurately described the difference in the US defense between the first and second half: the defense being pulled farther apart.
He said it before the second goal, which was the ultimate cause of the equalizer.
This pairing is leaps and bounds better than O’Brien and the bumbling Marcelo Balboa.
The technical side of the broadcast cannot be fully critiqued because ESPN was just taking the world feed. But, the producers back in Bristol did pump the crowd noise up more than it was on the Spanish channels here in the US.
It helped the fans feel more intimate with the action and was more accurate to what it sounded like on the pitch.
ESPN also understood how important this game was.
They have remained dedicated to soccer, and this was the lead on the bottom lead as well as the lead on “Sports Center”. The biggest sports station in the country put this first on a Sunday where interleague play ended, the two New York teams played, the two Chicago teams played, and the aftermath of the NBA draft played out.
ESPN made a statement, and an important one to US soccer moving forward.
The US might have failed, but ESPN prevailed in their coverage of this historic match.