[TELEVISION WATCH]There's been a lot to like about ESPN's pre-World Cup coverage.
ESPN2's preview show demonstrated the lengths ESPN has gone to cover the 2010 tournament.
We're used to Bob Ley, going back more than a decade, but top-of-the-line studio hosts Mike Tirico and Chris Fowler didn't miss a beat. And we really liked Wigan manager Roberto Martinez among the experts who ranged from Alexi Lalas and John Harkes all the way toJuergen Klinsmann and Ruud Gullit.
But the most fascinating part of its buildup was its airing of past World Cup games on ESPN Classic that showed just how soccer has come in the United States over the last quarter century.
Soccer America readers who've never heard Paul Gardneron television would have marveled at his work alongside Charlie Jones and Rick Davis during their call of the classic Argentina-England game at the 1986 World Cup (Their young researcher: one Sunil Gulati.)
Gardner was at his best: animated, funny, concise, not afraid to take on such targets as coaches ("Gary Lineker never had a coach") and East German scientists. Sound familiar?
But it was what Davis and Jones had to say that struck a cord.
As if soccer was not taken seriously by the American audience, Davis took pains to point out that "soccer is a contact sport."
We take for granted soccer is broadcast without commercial interruptions, but it wasn't always the case.
At one point, Jones interjected, "We'll be back ..." and sure enough, they broke for a commercial.
ESPN also aired the two U.S. victories at the 2002 World Cup, 3-2 over Portugal in their opener and 2-0 over Mexico in the round of 16.
What stood out on the broadcast with Jack Edwards and Ty Keough was how there was the assumption that part of the audience knew nothing about the game.
During the USA-Portugal broadcast, Edwards felt obliged to point out that "there are no timeouts in soccer."
That was only only eight years ago.
What's amazing about today's ESPN soccer coverage isn't just the resources it's throwing at its investments but its belief that its audience gets it.