[TELEVISION WATCH] Because many of the games will begin in the morning -- or very early morning here in California -- the first job of ESPN's World Cup announcers, as a practical matter, will be to keep us awake. But in Martin Tyler's debut as ESPN's World Cup lead broadcaster, he failed miserably. His unenthusiastic tone during Saturday's USA-Australia broadcast was shocking, given the up-beat nature of ESPN's massive buildup and the stock it has placed in its Brit voices.
Yes, it was Tyler's tuneup game. Yes, the game was played at three-quarters speed. Yes, the game was played on neutral ground with little atmosphere and no visuals in the Ruimsig Stadium's rural setting. But that's no excuse for his effort.
Tyler introduced himself by saying how happy he was to be "alongside old friends of mine like John Harkes," and they spent much of the broadcast acting like they'd never met each other before Friday.
While we'll forgive some early mistakes ("Robbie Findley from the MLS"), unusual usage (referring at halftime to Edson Buddle's "humanitarian story") and his English soccer-dropping (referring to longtime EPL goalie Marcus Hahnemann's "recognizable features" or noting the England security man Ray Woodworth sitting next to David Beckham), Tyler's low-key manner was a disappointment.
Tyler correctly cut off Harkes just as Buddle broke free to score the opening goal in the 4th minute, but there was a painfully long pause after Australia's tying goal before Tyler interjected, "It's 1-1."
One of the dilemmas Tyler faces is whether to play Vince Scully and spend a lot of his time story-telling in the American sports broadcasting tradition or play, well, Martin Tyler, and stick to the play-by-play style we're used to from British commentators.
Tyler started out doing the former jumping in quick order in the 7th minute from Jozy Altidore (whose injury was the pre-game lead) to Haiti to Joe Gaetjens to USA-England 1950.
Tyler concentrated on play by play for much of the second half, but that's where he ran into trouble, becoming so understated as to seem disinterested in the home team.
That approach might work for Slovakia-Paraguay in a couple of weeks but not when the U-S-of-A is playing.
And it goes to to problem of the Brit approach. It might work for non-U.S. games but not when the USA is playing. Especially Saturday against England in Rustenburg.
Just pointing out ... The USA Bid Committee, seeking the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, has invested heavily in the support of Disney's corporate leadership, so it was embarrassing that the center-line signboard on the ESPN2 broadcast was promoting Australia's 2018/22 World Cup. Australia is the USA's main competitor in the 2022 race. (Clarification: U.S. Soccer and its television partners had no control over the branding of the game, which was organized by Football Australia.)
(What did you think of the ESPN2 broadcast? Martin Tyler? John Harkes? Let us know in the comments below.)