Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Waldo's World

Eric Wynalda is a breath of fresh air on ESPN and ABC

American soccer is still in its growth stages and throughout the evolution of our national team, ESPN and ABC have essentially employed yes men and rally around the flag jingoistic type analysts to cover the World Cup and Major League Soccer. Ty Keough and Jack Edwards were totally shameless in covering both the 2002 World Cup and numerous seasons of MLS. Keough, in fact would never criticize a member of the US player pool while calling MLS games, and would often times inflate the image of average MLS players just to make the league and thus US Soccer look better. Bob Ley who called the 1998 World Cup and many other US National Team games was equally weak despite his excellent journalistic instincts in covering everything but Soccer. Seamus Malin knew the international game well, but he too had real trouble critiquing American players or coaches. Other commentators like Rob Stone, Marcelo Balboa, and Alexi Lalas have been nothing short of colorless and defensive of every mistake or effort of US Soccer or MLS. Colorful Ray Hudson has been kept from working for ESPN/ABC even though his brand of commentary is probably something that could sell American fans on the game.

Finally though, a breath of fresh air has appeared on our television screens, in the form of Eric Wynalda. Not only is Waldo the leading scorer in US History, which makes him particlularly qualified to comment on the National Team, but he scored both (arguably) the most spectacular goal in modern US World Cup history off a free kick against Switzerland in 1994 and he scored the first ever MLS goal in 1996. Unlike his former Men's National teammates turned commentators, Wynalda holds no punches back. During an early season MLS Game involving Chivas USA he took on former teammate and current ESPN/ABC collegue Alexi Lalas for firing Coach Bob Bradley while Lalas was the GM of the franchise formerly known as the Metrostars, and called out John O'Brien for being too injury prone and a potential liability if included on the 23 man US roster for Germany 2006. Alexi Lalas in a public comment soon after attacked Wynalda and impuned his ability to pass judgement on Lalas' decisions, but isn't that what a commentator is paid for? Two months later, the two seem to be getting along fine on the World Cup Live set, although it maybe just that Rece Davis, who has plenty of experience controlling opinionated anaylsts from his College Football and Basketball work has been able to keep the peace.

Eric Wynalda's World Cup commentary has been the first consistent critical analysis of the USA team on Disney Networks since we became regular participants in the World Cup. Wynalda has criticized Bruce Arena, suggested replacing Claudio Reyna as the captain and holding midfielder with Pablo Mastroeni (who was a teammate of Waldo's with the Miami Fusion), and called out Landon Donovan for his unwillingness to take guys on and exercise leadership. Wynalda even rightfully implied that Donovan has become too Hollywood with all the magazine covers and billboards, something I privately griped about in the lead up the World Cup, but something I thought would never be aired by former national team player on the Disney payroll. After all Donovan, along with Reyna and Arena seem to be sacred cows for the soccer media in this nation.

My hope is that Wynalda fills a needed role for soccer commentary on the network. The lead analyst role has been a revolving door for ESPN/ABC since MLS began in 1996 as have the play by play announcers. (Dave O'Brien is a marked improvement over Rob Stone and Jack Edwards though) Waldo has the potential to be soccer's Johnny Miller or John McEnroe if the Disney networks just keep him on the air.


Maxim said...

As a somewhat indifferent and occasional soccer watcher, I have to say that Wynalda's analysis is a pleasure to listen to, as it is presented very calmly and objectively, without hyperbole. He is a credit to American soccer. I also have to compliment Julie Foudy on her knowledge of the game.

I have much to my surprise watched 90% of the matches played so far and have to say as a Marlins fan, that Dave O'Brien is incredibly disappointing, not only in his play by play (limited knowledge), but also by mispronouncing the names of some of the countries.

I have enjoyed seeing the national pride and support shown by the people at the matches and the polite salutations and camraderie between the teams, even if it may only be on the surface. It is certainly a good example for all the kids who may be watching.

Federico said...

Wynalda is one of the few US players who toiled in Germany before the USA was recognized as a soccer power. At time he was in his early 20s and was best known for getting a red card in the first half of the 5-1 blowout to the Czechs in Italia 90. Before he got sent off the USA was holding its own down only 1-0, but as a young side made up of college kids, once they were a man down the floodgates opened. He was 19 at the time, but probably already the US player with the most potential.

Wynalda was almost too good a player for the MLS in its early days. He struggled to get effective service from poor midfielders. Frustrated he went to Mexico and scored 2 goals for Leon in a match with my team, Chivas before being injured. The Mexican and German game was played at a pace more to his liking. He then went back to the MLS for Miami before going back to Germany and then back to Miami.

Wynalda is my all time favorite US Soccer player. He was the dagger in the heart of my Mexican sides and he always was animated and told it like it is, even as a player. Maybe that's why he was run out of MLS and the US National Team by the age of 30 and now at 37 has been on TV for what seems like an eternity, while Reyna who he criticizes at 34 I believe is still captain of the national team.

I agree, he is fantastic and unlike Lalas and Balboa both whom I consider mediocre players and even worse commentators, I listen to Wynalda has to say. I watch most game on Univision, but flip to the English TV just to hear his thoughts.

USA06 said...

I agree, Wynalda has done a good job.

Somewhat disappointing is the duds that the heavily hyped England and USA games were. England was on ABC on the first Saturday presumably drawing the interest of some "on the fence" fans. The game put me to sleep. Then USA gets a decent rating on ESPN2 and lays an egg.

It may not be fair, but the lack of excitement generated by these two games really hurts the growth of the fan base of soccer here in the states.

A good performance by USA this Saturday is crucial to hooking some new fans.

Waldo's Lost said...

Wynalda is totally out of line for calling out Reyna and Donovan. His criticisms of Arena are fine, but those two guys were the only two who showed up on Monday and yet he seems to be laying the poor effort on their shoulders while exempting Kasey Keller who is a buddy of his and longtime teammate.

Wyanlda was one of the boys who didn't like Reyna when they played together- he, Harkes, Ramos and the others "boys of mission viejo" or more aptly named "bora's boys/teacher's pets" resented Reyna's skill and the interest big Euro clubs had in him and Jovan Kirovski, who has since flopped.

Waldo is now getting his revenge on Reyna and it's totally out of line.

Kartik said...

I agree with usa06. I am unhappy that the England game turned out to be a total dud.....hopefully some people watched Sweden/Trinidad which was a more exciting match, but ABC had promoted the English match figuring it would be a draw for casual fans.

Soccer can never seem to get a break in this country. For the first time anticpation gripped segments of the population here and we got an awesome TV rating (the match was ESPN2's highest rated program thus far this year) and fell flat on our faces. Hopefully the impatient,and demanding American public will give us another shot and tune in this Saturday versus Italy on ABC.

Colin said...

Eric Wynalda was probably the best player the USA has had. He was a clean finisher, good on the ball and physical enough to win 50-50 balls. Probably the only semi world class striker America has produced. Too bad for you that he's on the tube and not on the pitch.

Rafael said...

We all agree Wynalda was a great player. I recall seeing him as well playing for Leon. He broke his leg and never played in Mexico again, but was a force before he got injured. He was also outstanding at Copa in 1995, when the USA without expectation went very far in the competetion. They were eventually defeated by Columbia.

Anonymous said...

Andres Cantor the legendary spanish language announcer for univision used to scream WALDO, WALDO, WALDO, GOOOOOOOOOL, GOOOOOOOOL, GOOOOOOOOOOL. WALDO! Cantor would almost never call him Wynalda.

Torres said...

Wynalda is very good but has yet to criticize Arena's player selection which to me is the real crime.

Where is Taylor Twellman or Steve Ralston? What about Pat Noonan? Why is Brian Ching on the roster?

Hat Trick Peter Crouch said...

What did everyone think of Crouch's great goal yesterday?

How about Gerrard's strike? A great day to be a merseysider!

Passage through to the knock out stages.

the coach said...

If it werent for Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, and John Terry, Peter Crouch wouldnt have even sniffed the goal.

From a team that had such few English stars, Chelsea players now dominate the England National Team.


Hat Trick Peter Crouch said...

We own Chelsea. We are Liverpool. European Champions 2005, FA CUP Champions 2006

Xavier said...

I am a big fan of Ericx Wynalda. I think he has done about as good a job as anyone both as a player and now a TV host to promote soccer in this nation. Too bad USA doesn't have a striker of his caliber right now on the squad.

Gregg said...

I have to agree that Wynalda has brought a breath of fresh air as a commentator. I really like his opinions and the fact that he doesn't kiss up to every player on this roster.

But please, please, do not annoint this guy as a "great" player. He was a good player at best and is better known to me as being Eric "Whine" alda.

Gregg said...


Adding the guys you suggest would not make a difference on this team. While Twellman and Ralston are nice players they've had plenty of national team call ups and could not consistently play at a good enough level.