By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Aug 21, 2017) US Soccer Players – There’s an increasing number of former US players doing color commentary on TV these days. The move into punditry seems like a natural next step as more players seek to stay in the game they love, while lending their expertise to the growing number of coverage hours across all media outlets.
Be it Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden on Fox Sports during the recent Gold Cup or Taylor Twellman on ESPN’s weekly MLS broadcasts, there are challenges these former stars face. Making the move from participant to someone who regularly opines about what he likes and doesn’t from the current crop of players isn’t easy. Twellman, for example, has become one of the best-sourced soccer broadcasters, often breaking news via his Twitter account. Being a regular on TV requires hours of research, quick insights as a game unfolds and very often criticizing former teammates.
That was especially true for Holden and Donovan during the Gold Cup when they were covering the USMNT. Donovan told Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep that the difference is that it’s in the context of the game, saying “I try to phrase it in a way where I’m being respectful to the player….” Still, all involved have to find a balance.
Donovan’s first TV gig was at the 2014 World Cup for ESPN after coach Jurgen Klinsmann dropped him from the final roster. Since then, Donovan has gotten considerably better in front of the camera and has found chemistry with Holden, a former USMNT teammate, just like he used to on the field a few years ago. Donovan hopes to work next summer’s World Cup alongside Holden and play-by-play man John Strong. The all-American crew is a departure from ESPN’s past coverage, which largely employed British voices like those of Ian Darke and Jon Champion.
Moving from player to pundit isn’t new in American soccer. Former US defenders Alexi Lalas (Fox Sports) and Marcelo Balboa (Univision) have been regulars for some time now, as is Eric Wynalda (Fox Sports) as well as Kyle Martino (NBC Sports) and Christopher Sullivan (beIN Sports). There are others, such as Shep Messing and Janusz Michallik, who both do color commentary in New York, the country’s biggest media market, for MLS teams.
Messing has called World Cup games for ESPN and ESPN Radio. He is most known as the main analyst since 2001 for the MetroStars turned Red Bulls for Madison Square Garden Network.
“I’m serious when I say that one of the biggest challenges in making the transition from a goalkeeper shouting out instructions to a broadcaster providing analysis was to eliminate cursing from my vocabulary,” Messing said. “The second challenge was to understand, study and execute the use of broadcast mechanics … You can’t do a good job and be comfortable without mastering those elements of the broadcast.”
Messing said it is of “primary importance as a broadcaster to be objective” and to “call each game as if it’s a national broadcast without regard to personal relationships that can influence your analysis.”
“As such, I make a concerted effort not to mingle, socialize or spend time with the players at the hotel, at practice, or at the stadium,” he added. “The players and coaches in Major League Soccer are a terrific bunch of guys and I don’t want my personal opinion of them to influence the broadcast. Eddie Caggianelli, our producer at Madison Square Garden, always gives me the best advice – critique the play – not the player.”
Michallik, who works weekly games for New York City FC on YES Network, agreed that one of the biggest challenges has been criticizing players.
“Very hard actually because I know how hard it is as (a player). I have been on that side. I did not enjoy hearing that about myself either,” he said. “It has to be done of course, but in a respectful way. There is a tendency of being negative when players legitimately give you reasons. It needs to be pointed out, but can – and should – be balanced with positive commentary about little details they do well that maybe missed because the mistakes stand out more.”
Michallik said the best advice he can offer a former player interested in going into broadcasting is to just be yourself and don’t hold back when it comes to giving an opinion.
“To have an opinion regardless of how it will be perceived by the viewer,” he said. “Don’t think you need to have a persona, be controversial or be a cheerleader if it’s not in your nature. Basically, it is best to be you. I think viewers will know if you are genuine. The game, and what’s happening during it, is most important. Educate and entertain at the same time.”
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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