As an American soccer fan, I’m used to a certain level of inferiority. Clint Dempsey has had a nice career at Fulham, and a few keepers have done well for themselves abroad but, by and large, America is not a soccer superpower yet. But listening to former USMNT keeper (pictured above, in woolier times) Kasey Keller’s commentary is literally setting my brain on fire. It’s going to be difficult to sell America on soccer without dynamic broadcasting, and Keller isn’t the voice that’s going to lead it there.
At first, I didn’t notice Keller’s deficiencies, until pointed out by others. Much like a Magic Eye picture, once it was noticed, it became impossible not to. Keller doesn’t offer any real insight in the way that novice fans need, instead adhering to locker room platitudes or Gruden-esque goofy gusto. Keller’s ineffectiveness is furthered by his penchant for horrible jokes. His reaction to yesterday’s Alan Dzagoev shouldered-in goal was to make an awful “head, shoulders, knees and toes” pun that made myself and others visibly bristle.
As a non-cable-subscribing sports fan, I’ve had to view several of the Euro games on international feeds, and the difference is jarring. I watched today’s Netherlands-Germany clash with a British feed, and I was impressed by how little the commentator said, and in turn how much more attention I paid to the match than when I was being bombarded with Keller-isms.
It’s something that’s going to take some time. So far, the biggest efforts (Fox’s recent broadcasts of EPL games) have attempted to broadcast futbol in the style of American football, and the results have been, well, meh (There was a Deadspin article I was hoping to link to here that I couldn’t track down, but I swear they’ve talked about this). Analysts like Keller and Alexei Lalas are good at putting an American face on the sport, but they aren’t really offering insight that’s going to help people who aren’t soccer fans, or who didn’t grow up with the sport, understand the game better.
The news came through today that ESPN lost out on the rights to broadcast EPL to Sky Sports and British Telecom through 2016, so this gives the network some time to rethink their presentation. Hopefully the break gives them, or some other media outlet, the opportunity to figure out how to present the sport appropriately to America.