Pick 9 – Levy: Clive Tyldesley, play by play
You took all my picks for play-by-play! I should have expected Ian Darke wouldn’t get back to me, but I was fully hoping Arlo White, who is an absolute star on American television after his work for NBSCN this year, would drop this far. And now with Tyler gone, I’ll pick his understudy for the EA Sports FIFA franchise, Clive Tyldesley.
There are a lot of British voices calling matches (and I hope to snag a few others later), and while Tyler does wonders for those who love understated announcing, Tyldesley is one who can get a tad more excited during a match, but without making the call all about himself. I usually welcome the low-level EA Sports FIFA matches I play when Tyldesley is on the call, so maybe I’m picking him more for his video game prowess than anything.
Pick 10 – Yoder: Taylor Twellman, game analyst
Twellman is the best soccer analyst this country has produced. He’s smart, relates to viewers, and isn’t afraid to speak his mind and be critical when necessary – everything I’m looking for in a lead analyst. His newfound reporting skills breaking news on Twitter like Adam Schefter is a nice bonus, too. With my team I can continue his great partnership with Ian Darke. Here’s hoping ESPN lets them call the final together in Brazil so a deserving American voice can be present.
Pick 11 – Tannenwald: John Strong, play-by-play
John Strong is the reason why I am against the Gus Johnson Experiment.
I have no doubt that Gus has genuinely jumped into soccer with everything he’s got. I know how hard he has worked to learn the sport and its nuances, and I know how much preparation he puts into his game broadcasts. Even his biggest detractors would give him that much.
But the situation isn’t really Gus’ fault. The true blame lies with the Fox executives who decided to install him as their voice of soccer over the top of many other Americans who have a more natural feel for the sport. Indeed, Fox has a long history of being home to those very voices: Christian Miles, Mark Rogondino, Dave Johnson, J.P. Dellacamera, and most recently Strong himself. That Strong already works for Fox makes the network’s decision to pass him by even more disappointing. I would make John Strong the network’s lead voice for MLS and international soccer, especially next summer’s Women’s World Cup.
Soccer doesn’t need celebrity voices parachuted on to broadcasts in order to generate ratings. It needs voices who genuinely understand the sport. And by the way, that’s not a function of accent. Unfortunately, Fox has a history of making its broadcasts be about itself as much as the game. That criticism extends well beyond soccer – I could name more than a few NFL broadcasters to whom it applies, but I’ve written enough already.
I hope Fox makes the right decision, but I’m not optimistic. At least I know I’m not alone in wanting to see it happen.
Pick 12 – Harris: Roberto Martinez, studio analyst
Every job that Roberto Martinez has touched, he’s excelled in whether it’s as a footballer for Wigan or Swansea, or as a manager for Swansea, Wigan and Everton. The same applies to his breath-of-fresh-air analysis in the studio.
Martinez is a scholar of the modern game. He has a clear vision of how he wants his teams to play, and is able to articulate that vision to his players. Not only can he do that as a manager, but he’s just as articulate and intelligent when he speaks in front of the camera to TV viewers at home. Roberto Martinez is the manager that every team wants, and the studio analyst that every network wished they had.
Pick 13 – Harris: Jamie Carragher, studio analyst
While so much of the attention was placed on Gary Neville on the Sky Sports Monday Night Football show, the unsung hero this past season was Jamie Carragher who stepped into a very difficult position of trying to partner Gary Neville and work alongside one of the smartest minds in soccer TV coverage. While Carra had a rough start in the first few weeks, he then found his ground and established an excellent rapport as someone who was able to provide a player’s perspective, but to do so in such a way where it was informative and something that the viewer wouldn’t see (unlike Warren Barton on FOX, who adds nothing).
Carragher has done such a great job this past Premier League season that he often shared better insight than Gary Neville at times, which says a lot about the improvement he’s made in such a short time.
Pick 14 – Tannenwald: Ray Hudson, game analyst
I know Ray’s bombastic style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no one else I’d rather have illuminate the artistry of the world’s most creative players. His ability to turn a phrase in the spur of the moment is the best in the business.
I also know Ray won’t fit well with just any play-by-play man, and that chemistry matters a lot. Phil Schoen is Ray’s perfect foil because of his ability to play the straight man and cede the stage. I think John Strong could fill that role, so that would make one of my booth pairings.
Pick 15 – Yoder: Robbie Mustoe, game analyst
Those were literally the next three people on my big board. I wanted so badly to pair up Martin Tyler with Ray Hudson to see every soccer fan freak out. Alas, Mustoe is my pick. A cool hand in the studio and one of the leading lights of NBCSN’s top shelf coverage of the English Premier League. If I want to win over hardcore and casual fans alike I need someone who can excel at analyzing tactics and explain them in a way that’s easy to understand. Mustoe fits that bill perfectly.
Pick 16 – Levy: Robbie Earle, studio analyst
While Robbie Mustoe got much more of the priaise this season for NBCSN, it was the other Robbie—Robbie Earle—who shined most brightly during Premier League coverage. His work on NBC’s big telestrator is uniquely smooth, and as the least heralded member of the NBC studio rotation, he’s the voice I seem to trust the most. Also, I was totally picking Martinez here.
Pick 17 – Levy: Brad Friedel, studio analyst
I said this two years ago, but I actually can’t wait for Friedel to officially retire from playing so he can immediately become the best American studio analyst in the game. Friedel has spent so much of his career in Europe that his opinion is instantly credible in any situation. Combine that with his depth of knowledge and he’s going the be the perfect hire for any network who can get him. If Fox can’t get him to move back to the US, NBC would be wise to snatch him up and pair him with Arlo White immediately.
In a way, Friedel’s time at Fox is the exact opposite of Gus Johnson’s. Friedel is a guy whose value is in his experience, not his flashy style and crossover impact. Frankly, if Fox could get Friedel to team with Johnson in the booth instead of Eric Wynadla, many of us might find Johnson’s amateurish style more palatable.
Pick 18 – Yoder: Efan Ekoku, game analyst
There are a ton of options to consider for my second game analyst slot including Craig Burley, Steve McManaman, Davie Provan, and others. However, I’m going with Ekoku, who is a familiar voice to longtime soccer fans and called the World Cup Final for ESPN with Tyler in 2010. I’m quite content to pair them up again for the 2014 tournament.
Pick 19 – Tannenwald: Mike Tirico, studio host
For as much as people don’t like it when Americans who aren’t “soccer people” get involved in the sport, Mike got very little criticism four years ago in South Africa. That’s no surprise to people who watch his outstanding work on football, basketball and tennis, of course, but it’s still noteworthy.
Dan talked about the gravitas that Bob Ley brings to the studio set. Mike does too, as one of ESPN and ABC’s signature voices. He does his homework and is very good at bringing everyone at the table into the conversation. He’s also one of the best broadcasters at any network when it comes to intros and other scripts.
Pick 20 – Harris: Phil Schoen – play by play announcer
From ESPN to GolTV and bEIN SPORTS, lead commentator Phil Schoen has a track record of announcing many of the top leagues and games on US television. His voice is instantly recognizable, but it’s his commentating style that puts him in the position as one of the best, if not the best, American soccer commentator. He has a vast knowledge of the game. He possesses incredible passion in his voice, and he’s the perfect accompaniment to Ray Hudson’s unpredictable analysis.
If FOX is gung-ho on having American voices to commentate World Cup games, then Schoen has to be top of the list.
Pick 21 – Harris: Stewart Robson – game analyst
When it comes to breaking down plays and analyzing what went well or wrong, Stewart Robson is one of the best in the field. His expertise as a former professional footballer, as well as his no-nonsense analysis, gives the viewer a concise and revealing analysis during games. He’s not the type of co-commentator to focus on niceities. He will call it as he sees it, which may anger Arsenal supporters during most seasons, but it provides for enlightening analysis for the rest of us. Robson will probably be partnered with Jon Champion in the World Cup for ESPN, which will provide an exceptional experience of two people at the top of their game.
Pick 22 – Tannenwald: Mónica González, sideline reporter
I will be totally honest here: I didn’t want my crew to be entirely male. But Mónica deserves this place on merit, as she has grown into the role and become much more assertive with her on-camera presence. It also helps that she’s fluent in both Spanish and English – for those who don’t know, she used to play for the Mexican women’s national team. So if I wanted to send her to report on El Tri or another team on a U.S. off day, I could do so.
I also wouldn’t be afraid to bring Mónica in as a studio show presence. Over the last few years, she has done a lot of work with youth soccer programs that are aimed at inner-city Hispanic kids. She has a lot of interesting views on how Latino culture should be integrated into the American soccer community, and I’d like to give her an opportunity to share some of those views with a wider audience.
Pick 23 – Yoder: Brian McBride, studio analyst
The former Columbus Crew striker is really growing into his role as a studio analyst at Fox. Although others at the network may get more attention, his analysis is a bright spot. (In truth, I’d like to see him get a turn beside Gus Johnson in the main booth.) He should complement Robbie Mustoe well in my studio.
Pick 24 – Levy: Rob Stone, sideline reporter
I cannot believe that we’re into the sixth round and Rob Stone is not only still on the board, but that he wasn’t the first Fox studio personality taken. The one thing I miss most about Fox Soccer Channel having the EPL is Stone handling the studio show. I honestly can’t even remember who hosted the Fox show before Stone left ESPN for Fox, but he made the show miles better, adding a quirky sense of style with a good balance of big-game professionalism. Not to mention, who else could handle that rag-tag bunch of analysts the way he does? For my team, Stone could serve as a jack-of-all trades, working games, studio or reporting on the sideline. Who wouldn’t want Stoner patrolling the World Cup sidelines?
Pick 25 – Levy: Alejandro Moreno, game analyst
Alejandro Moreno hasn’t been doing TV for very long, but like Taylor Twellman, he’s become one of ESPN’s best in-game analysts.
Moreno handles a lot of ESPN’s English language coverage of Mexico matches, as well as working MLS—where he played for a decade—and other international duties. The former Venezuelan international is a welcome voice in any booth, adding a lot to the WWL’s coverage of USA v Mexico, and he’s really coming into his own as a lone analyst.
Pick 26 – Yoder: Jeff Stelling, studio host
I was counting on using Stone as my studio host and waiting until the last round to do so. I was not expecting that curveball! That said I better nab this guy before something else crazy happens.
There’s really nothing like Soccer Saturday on American television. The closest thing might be the RedZone Channel, but Stelling and co. have to do it without something crucial to the sports television experience – live game footage. That’s what makes it all the more incredible that Soccer Saturday isn’t just watchable, but great entertainment. I know a lot of American viewers haven’t seen Stelling in action, but his energy would be infectious with viewers.
Pick 27 – Tannenwald: Andrés Cantor, studio analyst
The original rules of the game said: “Any active, English language broadcaster is eligible to be drafted.” So I will try to exploit a potential loophole by claiming the comma means that “active” and “English language” need not be true at the same time. Andrés did English-language soccer play-by-play during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. It wasn’t a great success, but even his critics appreciated the effort and understood why NBC at least tried it.
You can make a pretty strong case that Andrés is the most famous soccer broadcaster this country has ever produced. Yes, he’s a native of Argentina, but he went to college at USC and became famous through his work for American television at the 1994 World Cup. If you haven’t heard his legendarily long “GOOOOOOOOOOL” calls, you’re missing out on one of the cornerstones of American soccer culture.
Although he doesn’t broadcast games in English, he does plenty of Twitter interaction (@AndresCantorGol) in English. Bringing him onto my crew will hopefully get some viewership from the second- and third-generation Hispanic-American “fusion” demographic. And since this World Cup is in one of soccer’s spiritual homes in South America, having someone who can tell those stories from the heart would make my studio coverage even better.
Pick 28 – Harris: Graeme Le Saux, game analyst
When I heard the news last year that Graeme Le Saux was going to be one of the co-commentators for NBC’s coverage of the Premier League, I was ecstatic. Here was a very intelligent analyst who often got overlooked by the UK TV media. At NBC Sports, he has been able to show his talent. He’s able to read the game well, and share his wisdom with the viewing audience on a weekly basis in the Premier League. The Brits are missing out with this game analyst who is lighting up the US TV each weekend from August to May.