The howling over Dave O’Brien’s play-by-play commentary is unlikely to cease until the last ball of this World Cup has been kicked in anger, but I’ll submit that his color man, former U.S. international Marcelo Balboa, is fast becoming the Rick Sutcliffe of soccer chat.
Bad enough that O’Brien and Balboa figure that those who woke up early to watch Switzerland’s 2-0 win over Togo would want to hear frequent discussion of Saturday’s Italy v. U.S. draw, but the Yanni lookalike continues to express the ridiculous notion that Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope’s respective red cards were unjustified.
While three red cards in a World Cup final is admittedly, unprecedented, it would be illuminating if Balboa (or anyone else employed by ESPN) could use their vast video library to show a two footed tackle of similar timing and ferocity to Mastroeni’s (preferably in a match of similar importance) that didn’t result in a sending off. I’m not saying such an instance has never occured, but it might serve to illustrate the point. As is, I think the call was fair.
LIkewise, it’s incredible that Pope would allow himself to be dismissed for a late tackle after already receiving a yellow card for a similar lunge earlier in the match. The precedent had already been established and Pope’s carelessness reflects poorly on his football IQ, if not that of his coach, Bruce Arena.
Lost amidst the predictable jingoism has been any mention by Balboa of Eddie Johnson, Josh Wolfe or Brian Ching, all riding the pine during a match in which a) Brian McBride was clearly exhausted in the 2nd half and b) Landon Donovan, while not nearly as ineffective as against the Czech Republic, had great difficulty creating chances, making his way through defenders, etc.
Of course, I do understand that Balboa has much more experience, both as a player and a broadcaster than I could ever bring to the table, and perhaps during tomorrow’s Sweden/England tilt, he can explain how Arena’s side can win a match without mustering a single shot on goal.
Failing that, I do think ESPN might want to consider pairing O’Brien with a Joe Garagiola / Fred Willard type, particularly given the emphasis on “entertainment.” This morning’s contest really could’ve used questions like “are Switzerland the neutrals’ favorite?” if not an uncomfortable reference to John Wayne Gacy and “Togo The Clown” (John Skipper, you know where to find me).