This is a good time to look at the various announcers ESPN has employed for the U.S. version of their Euro 2012 telecasts. I’m skipping the Spanish-language folks, because I don’t get ESPN Deportes.
#1 Team: Ian Darke (play-by-play) and Steve McManaman (color). Darke has become ESPN’s #1 man for international soccer, usually partnered with McManaman for the Premier League. Darke is good, knows the game, has it in his bones, gets passionate at the right times, and is a minor folk hero in the States for his call of Landon Donovan’s last-minute goal in the 2010 World Cup. McManaman is decent enough … he roots for England, although no more than he roots for Liverpool when he does their games. He has some useful insights at times. They work well as a team, although sometimes you get the feeling Darke is a bit too excited to be in the booth with a legend … when he calls him “Macca”, it’s half banter and half “holy shit, I’m sitting next to Steve McManaman!” (McManaman gets extra points for sounding like a Beatle.)
#2 Team: Scot Derek Rae is the best play-by-play guy on the ESPN team. He hasn’t had the most interesting partners (Kasey Keller and Taylor Twellman are, at best, not irritating … they are a step up from the days of Marcelo Balboa and Ty Keough, but that’s not a very high bar), but Rae is always a welcome voice.
#2A Team: Adrian Healey isn’t up to the quality of Rae and Darke, but he’s sufficient. And he has the man who, for my money, has been the best of the color commentators, Robbie Mustoe, who has more interesting commentary than all of the other color guys here combined.
My dream team of these folks would be Derek Rae and Robbie Mustoe, but the most important thing about ESPN’s coverage of this tournament is that no one stinks. You might have different preferences than I do, but with the exception of Michael Ballack’s first day in the studio, no one I’ve seen seemed like they simply didn’t belong. The play-by-play guys are all good-to-very good, the color guys are OK-to-excellent, and the hi-def picture is great (and that’s probably the most important thing in the end).
Studio folks: Your opinion of Alexi Lalas was likely formed long ago, and he has done nothing here to change anyone’s mind. I find him a bit much, but I don’t hate him, and I don’t mind that he’s around. It’s kinda like when he was a player … people never thought he was any good, but he played for the national team for a long time, and was the first American to play in Serie A. A great player? I’d say not, just as I don’t think he’s great in the booth. But he’s at least average, and undeserving of the crap the haters send his way. Michael Ballack was a disaster at first, like a German deer in the headlights. He’s become more relaxed (not that he’s exactly Perry Como), and his comments are about on the level of what Lalas or Keller or Twellman toss out. In other words, he doesn’t really bring anything extra to the table, but he’s a German legend, so why not let him sit in the studio with the Americans.
Studio hosts: Bob Ley is a professional, in a good way. He wasn’t anyone’s favorite play-by-play guy, and we’ve advanced to the point where he isn’t needed in that role, but he never embarrassed himself, and he’s perfect as a host. Rebecca Lowe is a stalwart stand-in for Ley … the usual crotch-scratching grunt on his couch might have thought she was nothing but eye candy, but in truth, she’s probably more knowledgeable about the game than Ley, and, like Ley, she benefits from the kind of professionalism that ex-jocks don’t often have. She’s the only one of the studio folks that you could imagine doing a fifteen-minute soccer wrap-up all on her own.
I actually don’t watch much of the studio stuff, so take the above with a grain of salt. I know there have been a few others (Roberto Martinez, Giuseppe Rossi), but I’ve missed them for the most part.
There was a time when the idea of watching an entire soccer tournament without being able to listen to the Spanish-language guys would have depressed the hell out of me, and for all I know, those guys are doing a great job. Since I don’t get to listen to them, it’s a pleasure to be able to say at last that the English-language announcers for the U.S. telecasts are just fine. If they mostly come from somewhere outside the States, well, I can live with that.
(Here’s a link to a good overview of the announcers … and by “good”, I mean I mostly agree with them: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1229728-euro-2012-grading-espns-announcers-analysts.)