Friday, June 23, 2006

USA vs. Ghana, ESPN

Pre-pregame coverage begins with a gentle tongue-bath for Kasey Keller-- a whole slow-mo minifeature, accompanied by acoustic guitars, featuring Keller in various tragic USA kit. The line “A career most players would be more than satisfied with…but Keller’s dream hasn’t yet come true” is accompanied by still, black-and-white shots of Kasey peering forlornly through his goal netting, imprisoned in his own private tragedy: male pattern baldness.

Oddly enough, the spot, in its earnest attempt to establish an underdog, is actually fairly honest about the three main aspects of Kasey: undeniably great, inconsistent and fading. I'm taken aback by this moment of realism on ESPN's part, but not for long.

...I’m watching this on tape, and just stopped it to report on the Keller thing. In doing so I caught Reese Davis’ assessment of Brazil vs. Japan:

“I’ve observed it very carefully: Ronaldo is phat. With a p-h!”

Can you beat that, morning studio team? Can you? Well, maybe, because I think you're the same people: Davis, plus Julie Foudy and Eric Wynalda. They weigh in after a brief, inexplicable Bruce Arena montage: Foudy claims the USA have the depth to compensate for the red cards; Wynalda is worse at disguising his obvious despair, finally telling us that if the USA can somehow get out from under their idiotic 4-5-1, they might be able to pull something out of this match.

More baseball.

We return to find Dave O’Brien summarizing the most recent matches (“Honk if you love Group D!”) and and then seguing back into baseball. I am fascinated by O’Brien’s accent- he lays his nationality aggressively over any name he encounters which is not of Anglophone origin, and I suspect he does this on purpose. He's the man who puts the "Ronald" in "Ronaldinho."

Your commentating team today will be O’Brien and Marcelo Balboa. Marcelo is working his usual magic on the composition of a shot: he stares out at you uncomfortably, somehow holding your eye contact and making it difficult to glance away at the pleasant, generic O'Brien, who is lurking in the lower left-hand corner. You see, Dave symbolizes American optimism for this match: well-spoken and influentially placed, but viscerally outpowered by the biker-bearded gloom of reali-

Foudy and Wynalda are playing foosball.

A moment for nationalism: Dave tells us that before the game, Arena gathered the team and they all looked at photos of a Marine unit in Iraq; when it's anthem time, the mics pick up vast roars of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” while the Ghanaian anthem remains mysteriously instrumental.

Bruce sits and frets.

The game coverage itself isn’t actually that bad. Dave (a baseball commentator, primarily, by profession) has settled into an inoffensively vacuous persona, his only flaw a sudden mastery of the art of patronizing Africans; Marcelo, after years of practice, is finally getting the hang of this talking thing. There is some dithering (“That’s not a foul…that’s a fou-if you want to call that a foul, fine!”) but when your competition is Tommy Smyth, you can get away with that kind of crap.

Halftime. The pundits summarize the Italy/Czechs game. Julie and Eric, concerned that they aren't offending enough people, briefly employ Super Mario accents.

Ghana look like a letdown after their performance against the Czechs, Dave says. Set pieces are a weakness for Ghana, Dave says. A Ghanaian defender disposessing an American is “a swing and a miss,” Dave says. Dave lies!

A tragedy (avoidable, but not today) ensues and we’re back to the pundits. Julie and Eric seem almost relieved to be able to admit what went wrong; they rightly and intelligently criticize the U.S. offense, in a move guaranteed to infuriate me, as I am late and exhausted and desperately seeking cheap material. Reese jumps in with an oddly telling Americanism, remarking that “We cannot undersell the importance of this to the people of Ghana.”

Pundits: Eric and Marcelo want the head of Bruce Arena. Julie blames both the formation and the players, but stops short of decapitation requests. Tommy Smyth pronounces “Ghanaians” two different ways in one sentence.

More pundits: Allen Hopkins and Janusz Michallik dance a deadly tango. Allen: Bruce doesn’t have any better offers. Janusz: the USA doesn’t have any better coaches.

Tommy getting dangerously wacky now; Bruce has been brought out…and…yes, that’s the point of diminishing returns. This has been your coverage of ESPN’s coverage of USA’s exit from the 2006 World Cup. And...

What we've learned: Tommy Smyth looks nothing like you'd think. ...Well, seriously-- Ghana are pretty damn devastating; the USA are overrated, scattered, poorly managed and choke-prone. We were aware. If Bruce had made some different decisions earlier in the tournament, this group might not have ended this way, but he didn't, and it did.


Blogger Matt said...

MInd you, Bruce definitely has a way with a fey gesture. If his team had been any good there was potential for all sorts of amusing montages of him gesticulating away and standing with his hand on his hip.

I once saw Kasey Keller take a goalkick with a golf ball. I add this now because I was hoping to drop it in at some other, more relevant point in the tournament, but I'm probably not going to get the chance now.

11:26 pm, June 23, 2006


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