The most pleasant surprise of this year's World Cup isn't the quality of soccer but the richness of the media coverage. Soccer fanatics are used to seeking out the foreign press for insight and attitude (I highly recommend Marina Hyde and "The Fiver" at guardian.co.uk), but this time around U.S. outlets are providing some welcome edge.
In the past, the strategy of ESPN and other American networks was to pair American announcers more accustomed to covering football and baseball with former U.S.A. players like Alexi Lalas or Eric Wynalda, unspectacular on the field and behind the microphone. The results were tentative calls full of rudimentary explanations of the game. The field is called a "pitch"? You don't say!
For the 2010 World Cup, ESPN has opted instead for veteran English announcers like Martin Tyler. The network, which also oversees the weekend broadcasts on ABC, is also using legendary German player and coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Dutch superstar Ruud Gullit.
Unlike American talking heads like CBS's Jim Nantz, who stocks broadcasts with background stories and other trivia, these international broadcasters are all about the games and tough-minded in their analysis.
In the U.S.A. match against England, Tyler unloaded on English goalkeeper Robert Green for bobbling American Clint Dempsey's kick into the net, saying, "That's one of the softest goals you'll ever see at this level of play."
And he doesn't limit his barbs to the players. "Could you imagine wearing gear like that on the sidelines?" Tyler asked a fellow an-nouncer about German coach Joachim Low's nightclub-influenced style. "I'm not sure he's pulling it off, either."