Longtime play-by-play man JP Dellacamera goes full-time with MLS and U.S. Soccer
How is it that a man whose name is synonymous with soccer broadcasts in the United States is only this year taking over as the lead play-by-play announcer for America's professional league?
Truth be told, JP Dellacamera, selected by ESPN and ABC to handle MLS as well as U.S. Soccer telecasts, has been working MLS games since the league began, but not on a regular basis at the national level. There are five MLS Cups and numerous All-Star Games on his resume, as well as six straight World Cups, the last four Women's World Cups, and the 2004 Olympic Games.
"The MLS package is something I always wanted to do, but for whatever reason, never had it as a full-time assignment," says Dellacamera, who moves into the booth with former U.S. midfielder John Harkes for MLS and national-team telecasts. "Obviously, it's an honor to be chosen."
Most of his MLS work has involved juggling regional broadcasts for the Crew and MetroStars/Red Bulls with other jobs, such as his current gig as voice of the NHL Atlanta Thrashers. It was through hockey he first found employment with the world's game, but not the worldwide version, not at first.
"I was doing minor-league hockey and had been doing it for about 10 years," says Dellacamera of his life in the early 1980s. "It was a lot of travel by bus and not a lot of NHL jobs were opening up. I thought to myself, 'How much longer do I want to be doing this? Maybe there's something else out there.'"
Indoor soccer was that something. Based in Erie, Pa., Dellacamera looked south to Pittsburgh, where Pittsburgh Penguins owner Edward DeBartolo also ran the Pittsburgh Spirit of the Major Indoor Soccer League.
"Indoor soccer and hockey, I thought, were very similar," recalls Dellacamera. "I thought it would get me to a higher level in broadcasting."
It did when Bob Carpenter, the lead announcer for a soccer package owned by Bud Sports, moved on.
"That opened up a soccer position," says Dellacamera, "and that led to the [St. Louis] Steamers, the MISL Game of the Week, and then the national team, and the World Cup."
Every veteran broadcaster can tell horror stories of confusion and chaos roiling off-camera, no matter how slick and polished the televised product may appear. So it proved to be during Dellacamera's first World Cup, the 1986 tournament staged in Mexico. NBC sent Charlie Jones, Rick Davis and Paul Gardner south of the border, but ESPN used commentators in studios watching monitors for the other games.
The cable system had anticipated problems getting transmissions from Mexico, and so it proved to be. National broadcasters around the world were receiving the wrong games, or games voiced in the wrong languages, or both.
"They were just not confident of the technical preparation for that World Cup," says Dellacamera. "They thought it might be worse by actually going there. We did it out of the CBC studios in Toronto and sure enough, wrong countries were getting the wrong feeds. We actually had to call a game we weren't supposed to do, because we didn't get the video feed we were supposed to get.
"The ironic twist of fate was after the first day of games in Mexico, the Canadians who were there wanted to come home, and they couldn't, because we were using their studios."
More than two decades later, the game — and MLS — are staples of ESPN programming. Dellacamera and Harkes worked together at the 2006 World Cup and the former believes he and the latter have formed a solid partnership viewers can appreciate.
"His work ethic is strong and he has a great knowledge of the game, obviously, as an ex-player and Hall of Famer," says Dellacamera. "I thought he did an outstanding job in 2006 and brought a lot to the table. He'll be great in this role."
(This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)