Saturday, May 26, 2012

Better ... Much Better ... But Still Room for Improvement

The United States Men's National Team has just played a truly exciting, even scintillating match against Scotland, a team struggling to regain a position in the third tier of European international soccer. There will be plenty of commentary on the Web about the match itself, especially about Landon Donovan's magnificent hat trick and Michael Bradley's utterly astounding half-volley goal; and let's not overlook Jermaine Jones's difficult header off a cross from Donovan, to wrap up the scoring in a 5:1 win (the Scotland goal coming on an unavoidable own-goal in the 15th minute). So I won't say any more about that.

There are really only three comments I want to make, on subjects that, as a spectator, are important to me but that, I reckon, won't be much discussed in the talking-heads chat rooms:

1) What idiot decided to dress our team in red and white hoops? One reasonably intelligent observer called it the "Where's Waldo" kit, and he's right. But more important to the television audience, was it the same damned fool who decided that what those silly uniforms really need was silver numbers on a white background? Did no one give a thought to what they would look like on TV? The numbers are invisible.

2) I was again impressed at the composure of the US defense. This seems to have been the first thing Jurgen Klinsmann addressed after taking over the team, and it is already paying dividends. At no point during tonight's game did our guys look like six-year-olds playing kickball in front of the goal. Even when Scotland were menacing our goal (which, despite the score line, the did do from time to time), our back four kept their cool. There were no desperate slashes at the ball, which in the past have often been the source of opponents' goals. Carlos Bocanegra, in particular, has raised himself in my esteem after a few performances under Klinsmann's influence. (And it's great to see Oguchi Onyewu back from injury.)

Arlo White doing a Sounders match
3) Kudos to NBC Sports Network for raising the bar on soccer commentary in the USA. Arlo White, an Englishman who had been doing commentary for the Seattle Sounders, is a great improvement over the breathy bozos that broadcasters usually bring in for this sport. He was fairly low-key, in the English manner, which I appreciate after hearing so many American commentators punctuate every third word of every sentence with an exclamation point, and drag down every match with unimaginative co-optation of NFL jargon. Plus, White was generally good at telling us viewers who was on the ball ... especially important, since we couldn't see the numbers on the jerseys. Kyle Martino may not have been as incisive as some other US color-commentators in the sport, but he at least has the great virtue of not speaking simply to hear his own voice, like most people who grew up watching the NFL on TV: he seems to understand the difference between those broadcasts, and soccer broadcasts: an NFL game consists of nine minutes of action over the course of two and a half hours, so most of the time the commentators' choice is between drivel and dead air. 

That's all I have to say ... except: 

Picture credit: By Noelle Noble (Flickr: _DSC0221) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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