A couple weeks ago, I reviewed Fox’s Fernando Fiore and Fox’s Copa America broadcast and loved what I saw. I thought it was entertaining and informative.
Then I watched the USA vs. Argentina Fox broadcast on location in Houston Tuesday night and found myself thinking this at the end of the broadcast:
Wagner & Lalas post-match analysis in a nutshell:https://t.co/aSifaLP9gS
— Jacob Cristobal ⭐️ (@jacobcristobal) June 22, 2016
What the hell was that, Fox?
First, let’s start with the two hour pregame show. Despite it seeming like it went on too long and the Fox crew was running out of things to say at times, I won’t blame the length of the pregame show on them. Throughout the tournament, many people have wanted to and/or criticized Fox to provide more time to their Copa America coverage and they came through on that in a very important game. So, when it comes to the length of the two hour pregame show, that’s not really on Fox and more a sense of “be careful what you wish for.”
Apart from Fox treating the pregame show like a two hour pep rally for the USA, my biggest issue with the pregame show was toward the end when the crew gave their predictions. Everyone watching the broadcast realizes that Stuart Holden, Aly Wagner and Alexi Lalas are going to be rooting for the USA. The three of them are proud Americans and proudly represented their country as players. I totally get that. I’m an American, I’m rooting for the USA too and want them to win like any other U.S. Soccer fan. At the same time, when I’m writing about the team on 32 Flags, I want to be fair to the situation and whether it’s good or bad, accurately talk about the team and what to expect.
— FS1 (@FS1) June 22, 2016
When the Fox crew made their picks, all but Fiore chose the United States. Fiore had the distinction of being Argentinian-American so he legitimately could call it as he saw it. Holden, Wagner and Lalas all chose the United States, who were big underdogs. Holden at least provided a realistic and plausible explanation on how the USMNT was going to win, tying 1-1 and then winning in penalty kicks. Wagner went with the “my brain is for Argentina but my heart is with the United States” method as to why she chose to go with her heart and choose the USMNT. Lalas however went completely off the rails.
Lalas first said that Argentina was the favorite (true) but the U.S. wasn’t the underdog (not true). He then claimed that because the USMNT defeated Colombia in a World Cup (in 1994), Argentina in a Copa America (in 1995), Brazil in a Gold Cup (in 1998), and Spain in a Confederations Cup (in 2009), that the United States was going to win. Not to state the obvious here, but unless Lalas himself laced up his boots and played against Argentina on Tuesday night, I’m pretty sure the United States wins back in 1994 and ’95 do not apply to 2016. When the USMNT defeated Argentina in 1995, Christian Pulisic wasn’t even born yet, most of the team was in middle schoo,l and Tim Howard, the oldest player on the Copa America squad, was 16.
Even when the United States defeated Spain in the Confederations Cup, only Clint Dempsey, Brad Guzan, Michael Bradley, and Howard remain from that squad, so to say this current team could beat Argentina simply because past players who aren’t on the team anymore beat big teams in the past is something that any person could come up with and, quite frankly, should be the kind of analysis that’s beneath a USMNT legend like Alexi Lalas.
I’m not saying the Fox crew needs to hide their American pride – far from it. It’s an international game and anyone who works in soccer, including the media, is clearly going to be passionate for their country, so I’m all for letting that passion out. I also believe that that passion can blind impartiality and being fair to the U.S. Men’s National Team. I don’t think anyone would question their patriotism if more than one person chose Argentina over the United States because, I don’t know, Argentina is the #1 team in the world, have a front line that consists of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuain, and Lionel Messi, and have been the consensus favorite throughout the entire tournament. Lalas even said on Copa Tonight on June 14, entering the knockout stage, that the Copa America was “on a platter” for Argentina to win and that we should “give them the trophy.”
In between Lalas’ statement and the USMNT game, Argentina won 4-1 against Venezuela, so what led to that change of opinion? Let’s say for the sake of argument, the United States is equal to Mexico (although that’s debatable). If Mexico had been playing Argentina Tuesday night, would everyone but Fiore predict Mexico to upset Argentina? I would say not. Analysts are supposed to analyze and preview the game, not be fans. If they want to be fans first, go watch the game with the American Outlaws and put someone else in who may be a fan but isn’t afraid to say that Argentina is going to beat the United States for rather obvious reasons. I’m not asking for a loyalty test to the United States, I want realistic outcomes of what’s going to happen and predictions based on what is seen from the experts, not the kind of analysis that even a casual soccer fan could put out.
Onto the game itself, I felt the shining moment of the game broadcast was Landon Donovan. Donovan is just starting to get into broadcasting so he naturally has some things to work on, but I think he has a future. Donovan was realistic about the ability of the USMNT before, during and after the game. Sure, some may say Donovan being cut by Jurgen Klinsmann before the 2014 World Cup makes it easier for him to criticize, but Donovan was mostly complimentary about Klinsmann throughout the game and was pretty accurate with his analysis on Klinsmann and the team itself. There were times that Donovan may have said things that were a bit cliché and obvious like “goals change games,” but he hasn’t been doing this that long and he wouldn’t be the only person in sports broadcasting to do that, so it can be worked on. I wouldn’t mind seeing Donovan doing more commentary in the future knowing that there’s potential there and I think will improve over time.
During the game broadcast, many people took issue to some technical problems Fox had. Mainly, the audio was off sync and slightly ahead of the video in parts of the broadcast. In fairness to Fox, the video part is controlled by a world feed, so Fox is at their mercy for the most part. In terms of audio issues, it seemed as though that was solely a Fox problem because Univision didn’t seem to have issues with their audio. Also, Fox seemed to have a similar audio issue during their coverage of the U.S. Open this past weekend. So whatever the issue was, that was on Fox.
Then there were a couple graphics issues that contributed to the audio issues. First, Fox accidentally listed USWNT #18 Ashlyn Harris instead of USMNT #18 Chris Wondolowski when he got a yellow card during the game. No clue why that’s even a possibility of happening, but like Good Morning America and “Tea Lizard,” at least it seemed that people had fun with it.
— Carli Lloyd (@CarliLloyd) June 22, 2016
How do you like my new look?!
The other graphic issue that was the cherry on top of the mess of a broadcast was when Fox listed the final score as 3-0 Argentina rather than 4-0. Yes, it’s a small thing and probably something that’s very minor, but when you add this, the Ashlyn Harris graphic, and the constant audio issues, it all adds up to a giant mess and it really isn’t too much to ask for those issues to be taken care of before it goes out to the public. No doubt mistakes happen, but those are a lot of mistakes to happen for a broadcast, and especially one that was given such importance.
— Meaghen Johnson (@MeaghenJohnson) June 22, 2016
After the game, listening to Holden, Wagner and Lalas, if I didn’t know any better I would’ve thought the United States was the favorite and they got upset by Argentina. It took me a couple hours until I watched Copa Tonight before I actually got some meaningful analysis of the game.
The crew talked about how brilliant Messi was.
— FS1 (@FS1) June 22, 2016
Then they broke down the USMNT gameplan and about how Argentina was the superior team. All the while, breaking down that even though Argentina was likely to beat the USMNT on their best day, they didn’t do themselves any favors with their performance.
So if Messi was actually that brilliant and is actually the best player in the world and Argentina was a superior team over the USMNT in that game, then why were those three so gung ho in choosing the United States to win during the pregame show, only to act surprised that they lost? I’m all for being optimistic and wanting high expectations out of the team I love but those expectations have to come with a dose of realism. I’m sorry to burst anybody’s bubble, but Chris Wondolowski is not Gonzalo Higuain and Clint Dempsey is not Lionel Messi. And acting as though they are and thinking that the United States is somehow equal to Argentina can create completely unrealistic expectations. Then when the team cannot meet those expectations, fans get upset.
I read a tweet from former MLS player and current New York Cosmos B manager Alecko Eskandarian that summed it up perfectly.
It's almost irresponsible for media to portray us as having a very good chance to win this match and undermines the accomplishment if we do!
— Alecko Eskandarian (@alecko11) June 22, 2016
Imagine before the “Miracle on Ice” that Jim McKay, Al Michaels, and everyone on Wide World of Sports predicted the U.S. Men’s Hockey Team would beat the Soviet Union. Sure, they would surprisingly be right, but everyone predicting the United States winning would water down the achievement simply because all the experts said it was going to happen. And thus, we as fans would expect that to happen, even though the team faced long odds.
Now look at the USA/Argentina game. With 3/4 of the crew choosing the United States, 75% of the expert analysts on the Fox pregame show predicted that the 31st ranked U.S. team would beat 1st ranked Argentina. Regardless of the amount of information that would indicate the alternative was way more likely to happen, it planted an expectation that the United States was actually going to win. And then when they fail as what was statistically likely to happen, fans are confused because they were told that they were going to win. No wonder why so many people want to sack Jurgen Klinsmann. No one can meet the expectations of having to win every game by that logic. But it’s something we all do, all the time.
Watching Fox’s broadcast of the USA/Argentina game, I left having my intelligence insulted as a fan and disappointed because I have seen Fox be outstanding in their soccer coverage. From their coverage of the Women’s World Cup to their hour-by-hour coverage of the FIFA Presidential election, Fox has proven to put out tremendous and top notch soccer coverage. So why did they seem to revert to catering to the “lowest common denominator” and acting as though we’re only watching because it’s the United States and we don’t know much about soccer? I have nothing but respect for everybody in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes at Fox Soccer because I cannot possibly imagine the amount of time and hard work that goes into a production like that. But Fox and Fox Soccer are way better than this, they have shown to be better than this, and fans/viewers deserve better than this.