The inclusion of former U.S. international John Harkes on the ESPN2 broadcast of the MLS SuperDraft Friday isn't the only change to the cable system's soccer format. Nor is it a one-off.
Word is spreading at the NSCAA Convention in Baltimore, where the MLS SuperDraft will be staged Friday, that Harkes is replacing Eric Wynalda as lead analyst on MLS telecasts this season. Officially, Wynalda - who is in the third year of a five-year contract - will be assigned other events, but since his contract specifies he will work soccer events, ESPN may scramble to find enough non-MLS soccer events to fulfill his portfolio.
Wynalda angered ESPN executives last year when disparaging remarks he uttered to a group of fans in a bar about ESPN host Jim Rome were disseminated in a blog. He was suspended for a game, fined $5,000, and replaced by former women's international Julie Foudy. For most subsequent MLS games he shared analyst duties with Tommy Smyth, the lead analyst for Champions League telecasts.
Harkes left his assistant coaching position with Red Bull New York two weeks ago. He has worked on soccer telecasts for the ESPN networks in the past, including the 2006 World Cup and Women's College Cup, and for two seasons was Fox Soccer Channel's studio analyst on "MLS Wrap."
A call to Harkes' cell phone was not returned, as was one to Wynalda. ESPN spokesman Mac Nwulu said "We have nothing to announce at this time. We are still in the talent evaluation phase for MLS Primetime Thursday and U.S. Soccer telecasts, much like we do each off-season with any sport on ESPN."
Other changes have been in the offing for months. According to sources, veteran soccer commentator JP Dellacamera has been offered the job as lead play-by-play announcer on soccer telecasts, including MLS. Dave O'Brien, who landed 2006 World Cup duties as a condition of signing a new contract three years ago, is overloaded with baseball assignments this year for the Red Sox and ESPN.
Smyth will continue to do Champions League games on ESPN2 and other international games for ESPN International but is off regular duty on MLS telecasts.
Coverage of the MLS SuperDraft begins at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and runs for an hour. Harkes will be joined by host Rob Stone and reporter Allan Hopkins. The remainder of the draft will be streamlined on mlsnet.com.