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The new world order and ESPN FC
by Paul Kennedy, August 13th, 2013 3:47PM

TAGS:  men's national team, mls, television


By Paul Kennedy

There was a time when the idea of ESPN launching a daily soccer show would have had us jumping up and down.

But there's so much soccer on the air these days -- and more to come with Saturday's debut of the EPL on NBC and Fox Soccer Daily airing for the first time on Monday on the new Fox Sports 1 -- that it will take a lot of work to get soccer fans excited about ESPN2's new ESPN FC show.

And that's just the problem with a show like ESPN FC: there's so much soccer going on these days, how do you possibly begin covering it?

A game like Sunday's MLS match in Dallas normally would have been a perfect lead-in for a show like ESPN FC, but it clearly hadn't planned on leading with the FC Dallas-LA Galaxy game, which proved to be a not so small problem. How do you not lead with a game that ended in a 3-3 tie with three goals from Landon Donovan, loads of controversy to rehash in the form of two blown offside calls, topped off by harsh remarks from Donovan about Galaxy keeper Carlo Cudicini and his backline?

Instead of debuting at 10 p.m. ET, "studio problems" meant ESPN FC launched in mid-show more than 10 minutes after the Dallas game ended and jumped right into the weeds with a debate on whether Wayne Rooney should leave Manchester United to Chelsea. Huh?

A couple of hours later, ESPN FC re-aired from the beginning with weekend highlights from the Community Shield and the start of the Bundesliga. All good stuff but not up to what we'd just seen in Frisco.

It was followed over the next 45 minutes by not one but two segments -- with separate sets of talking heads, no less -- on Clint Dempsey's move to MLS. Again, all fine and good. But nothing as good as the show Donovan and company just put on.

On the second take, the ESPN FC got it right, ending with highlights and analysis from Dallas as well as the view from Bristol. The consensus? Donovan was absolutely right for calling out his keeper.

The Monday afternoon show -- 5:30-6 p.m. ET -- was more straightforward: opening with a Dempsey interview -- one of the main talking heads happens to be his former Revs coach, Stevie Nicol, and his former Revs teammate, Taylor Twellman, is ESPN's MLS and national team analyst -- and closing with the goals of the week, including one by the 17-year-old PSV phenom Zakaria Bakkali, all 5-foot-5 of him, and two amazing goals from Denmark at No. 1 and No. 2.

But it also included a very misguided segment on the absence of Timmy Chandler from the U.S. national team squad for the Bosnia match. Twellman mentioned rumors of Chandler wanting to switch back to play for Germany, and Raphael Honigstein, ESPN FC's so-called German expert, said, "The German FA have told me they no interest in calling him up." They really told you that? One small detail: Chandler has been cap-tied to the USA since the Honduras qualifier in February.

On the whole, though, the segments were good, and the dizzying array of talking heads and accents palatable. The problem, of course, will be to keep the show from becoming just that: dizzying.

For shows like NFL Primetime and Baseball Tonight or the other mid-afternoon shows, there's a natural order to things dictated by who's winning and who's losing, who's throwing for five touchdowns and who's throwing a no-hitter. Who blew out his knee or who's on dope? All within the confines of one league.

The challenge of a show like ESPN FC or Fox Soccer Daily is whether to make it a U.S. soccer show or an international soccer show. And if you make it an international show, what kind of international soccer do you emphasize? Do you end up burying MLS? And do you go overboard with the EPL?

The good news is current events should make these kind of decisions for ESPN FC's producers easy ones: it's simply a soccer show on which the biggest news stories just happen to concern American soccer. And if that's a new world order, all the power to us.

The national team -- whose media rights ESPN happens to hold -- is doing very, very well so even a friendly in faraway Sarajevo is a big deal. And Dempsey's return home is something fans can relate to -- he's doing it for himself and his family and no one else -- so he'll remain very much in the news.

Except on nights when Donovan goes wild.

  1. Rita Millar
    commented on: August 13, 2013 at 6 p.m.
    Regarding ESPN mistakes. I think they need to hire someone that is more knowledgeable of soccer . Also I think they should get the right to the bundesliga. Good team in Germany.
  1. Alexander Lozano
    commented on: August 13, 2013 at 6:25 p.m.
    Yes, they made a mistake in not leading in with the Galaxy-FCD debate, which had quite a bit of news to deal with but I like the show & think they have a good balance of American soccer & the international game. Yes, there's a lot of soccer on the air nowadays but this is new in the USA & I have the many, different options now available. It wasn't so long ago that it was ridiciously hard to find ANY info on soccer, so this is a good "problem" to have & kudos to ESPN, for a good show to start with! Bring on NBC, NBCSN & Fox Sports 1!!
  1. Valerie Metzler
    commented on: August 13, 2013 at 7:20 p.m.
    We want more.
  1. John DiFiore
    commented on: August 13, 2013 at 7:41 p.m.
    @ valerie - Yes, we want more. And why is fox soccer shying away from MLS these days?? It's the best its ever been. and with Deuce coming back and getting paid more than Becks, this is HUGE for US soccer. I think the league will start to turn the corner now and be that much closer to the others. (relax everyone- I dont mean this season or next)..
  1. John DiFiore
    commented on: August 13, 2013 at 7:44 p.m.
    Yea - way too many Brits on the tele! Yes, EPL is the best league, but British soccer aint what it was!! Although, at least they get excited when there is a goal or build up.. I'll give you that. Our american counter parts need to take some uppers before the games. Or start drinking!!!
  1. John DiFiore
    commented on: August 13, 2013 at 7:45 p.m.
    Sorry - one more. I'm not so sure things will be better when FSC goes away... I like to be able to come home (AT ANY HOUR) and turn on FSC and see soccer. Not sure thats gonna happen on FS1..
  1. John DiFiore
    commented on: August 13, 2013 at 7:53 p.m.
    Paul, you really hit it on the head. That LA/DAL game was sooo good! and with the jockeying for position so important now that we're in the second half of the season.. why all the accents on the "chube" talking about stuff across the pond???
  1. Futbol Genio
    commented on: August 14, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.
    I can never get enough soccer, so these are good problems! As far as the BPL, few would watch it if it wasn't for top 6 teams...with #7-20 teams no better than any MLS team. Indeed, if the games were played in the summer, the BPL teams would go winless versus MLS. British announcers do not help the MLS with their commentary, and seem to overemphasize BPL dominance, avoiding La Liga, Bundesliga, Liga Brasileira and others. With Fair Play rules flaunted in the BPL, $$ is what keeps that League's top teams thriving... After this next World Cup, when Europe falls to South American teams, $$ will be in short supply in England & the soccer world will reset... All the new Soccer TV shows will have to get Hispanic announcers!
  1. Eric Piazzoni
    commented on: August 14, 2013 at 12:03 p.m.
    The EPL season hasn't even started, yet they managed to find 45 minutes of rumor and conjecture to focus on during Sunday's show. I haven't been bothered to give the show a second chance.

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