Swindle On Soccer, Vol.4: Golden Guus!
Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 3: US-Czech Republic
Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 2: Pregame, USA
Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 1: Staggering To Life
Swindle On Soccer: An Introduction
ESPN's given us so much over the years that crapping on it continuously really isn't fair. Dog jumping. The World's Strongest Man. Keith Olbermann making Emanuel Kant jokes on national tv. Even Berman, who we would happily strap a parachute onto and push out of a plane over the friendly territory of southern Afghanistan, was once funny before we had certain things like taste, the ability to feed ourselves, and secondary sexual characteristics. We owe them much in the way of happy, idle memories.
Given that, they deserve no quarter for their soccer coverage. The great (and in the eyes of its detractors) and awful thing about futbol is it indeterminacy. In football, a play may look like this from the quarterback's perspective.
1. Recognize Tampa 2.
2. Adjust protection.
3. Look for skinny post on weak side.
4. If covered check TE curl.
5. If covered go to RB in flat.
6. If all covered run.
It reads like Perl or any other piece of code. Statistics may be derived, parsed, and then rederived based on evaluation over long periods of time, so that trends may be read across the data of a large sample set. This could as a football fan create a sensation of tingling in the brain and a heightened awareness. This can be labeled pleasure.
Soccer, from the midfielder's perspective, rarely follows code. Perhaps there is a set play ready to run; a give and go, a through ball splitting defenders, a few well-rehearsed routines fitting certain situations. A game of flow lends itself to fewer stats, fewer set pieces, and fewer opportunities to insert verbiage, image, and frame between the viewer and the event.
This doesn't jibe well with ESPN's general M.O., which is not to serve so much as a portal for the unscripted theatre of sport but as the medium and message of sport. They take a simple thing and make it complex, presenting ESPN as the indispensable provider of not sports, but ESPN Sports, a stat-clogged, commentary-heavy continuous 24-hr. event where sport is overshadowed by the people who play, pay, and comment on it. Football and baseball are perfect for this sort of obstructive, manufactured, showy presentation, since their content source is practically painted on the field in numbers. Basketball is less so, though the numbers come a-plenty thanks to nimble statspeople counting every rebound and each assist.
"I am now prepared to examine your strange sport."
Soccer eludes this kind of repetitive autopsy of the event because there's so little to count. Shots on goal, time of possession...none matter as much as the final score, a scanty total compared to basketball or even hockey.Thus ESPN, reliant on speaking for the game rather than letting games speak for themselves, has to manufacture things to do pre- and post-match: flashing meaningless stats across the bottom third of the screen (often obscuring the ball handler at the moment,) and forcing Alexei Lalas, Julie Fowdy, and Alexei Lalas into the hectoring, exasperated ESPN analyst mold but thus far sparing us the faux-PTI arguments peppering every other WWL product.
This parody video--showing what Microsoft would do to the IPod if they controlled the marketing and presentation of it--details exactly what ESPN attempts to do to soccer, and exactly why it fails. Full of bullets. Cluttered. Crammed with extraneous shit assuming you, the viewer who went to the trouble of watching in the first place, can't figure out what's going on in the game, ultimately creating an ugly, inferior product.
The IPod in this case would be the much-lauded Univision coverage. First there's their superior pregame: rather than the clinical, stat-driven coverage broadcast from a dark studio by announcers wearing ties (it's a rule: if you're on camera at ESPN, you wear a tie unless you're a lady, in which case you wear a suit with shoulder pads), Republica Deportiva allows viewers to wallow in what most soccer viewers want anyway: ass, titties, atmosphere, and brief highlights.
Feel Fernando, because he is feeling you.
The women wear hot pants customized to the colors of the team they root for that day, since RD is completely partisan in almost every match, a preference determined exclusively by your proximity to Miami. The women are fed, unlike what we imagine you'd see on Fox pregame show of similar design, and outnumber men by a ratio of 311-1 very, very happy dude in pleated pants. There's always a band. There's always dancing. There's always one woman you see who merits phone calls to friends operating on people's brains, filing depositions, and rescuing babies from buildings just to tell them, "No, seriously dude, I mean...you just have to see it." It's all gloriously stupid and fun and everything ESPN cannot and will not ever be.
This doesn't mean the game coverage isn't serious, though. Anthems and entrances play with minimal interruption. Once the match gets going, NOTHING interrupts the view of the screen, and the camera work flows smoothly from broad panaorama to tight, well-timed shots of player and coach reactions. Fan fun is reserved largely for pregame shots and halftime. And the announcers, if you can understand them, keep it light and unobtrusive, doing what could best be called chit-chat in between frenetic excitement whenever the goal appears in the frame.
The final reason the Univision coverage trumps all attempts by ESPN to capture a splinter of the alchemy of World Cup soccer: the Gol! logo. As the announcer bellows the best call in all of sport--GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!!!!, alternately said in low tones for the opposing team and high tones for whomever the announcer is shamelessly rooting for--the little golden word GOL! bounces in the corner slowly and giddily. Just the sight of it warms our heart: whimsical, luminescent, small but exuberant, and redolent of less-than-opulent budgets. It's everything to love about World Cup soccer on Univision.