Saturday, July 2, 2005

It’s time for soccer commentators to stop using the cliche that “a two-goal lead is the toughest to defend.” This trite line was uttered twice last Saturday, once by Chris Sullivan on Fox Soccer Channel and again later in the day by Brandi Chastain on ESPN2.

The idea that a two-goal lead is tougher to defend than a one-goal lead is utter nonsense. How this concept got into the lexicon of American soccer baffles me.

Chastain even asked a coach whether he preferred a two-goal or one-goal lead. Earth to Brandi: Two goals always are better than one. Probably 80 percent of teams that acquire a two-goal lead win the game.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, why does ESPN2 keep piling on the gimmicks for its broadcasts?

Most of us can put up with the Radio Shack Minute in which a fan attempts to predict the minute when a specific player will score a goal. No one ever wins.

Then there’s the Side-By-Side commercial, in which half the screen is blocked out by a Sierra Mist ad. I thought there was an unwritten agreement not to interrupt soccer games, but it appears the commercials are now creeping back.

Then we get to listen in on a player wearing a live microphone. Whoopee! How Major League Soccer gets away with players wearing microphones strapped to their backs or arms while FIFA cracks down on players wearing any form of jewelry for safety reasons amazes me.

And we mustn’t forget the sideline comments from the coaches. Soccer, unlike other sports, does not have timeouts, which makes it less convenient for a coach to stop, think and talk into a microphone. In a soccer game, anything can happen in a split-second, so the coach always is cautiously watching the play while trying to say something intelligible to the sideline reporter. The viewers just want to watch the match, not coaches who are stuck for words.

D.C. United’s Peter Nowak obviously hates the interruption, and New England Revolution coach Steve Nicol looks ready to kill. MetroStars coach Bob Bradley — a Robert Duvall look-a-like who could have just stepped off the “Goodfellas” set — never looks happy, and Chicago Fire coach Dave Sarachan comes off like a kindly Harvard professor.

Now ESPN2 seems to have gone even further. Color commentator Eric Wynalda has taken to scribbling on the screen like John Madden.

“He needs to put the ball right here,” Wynalda will say, blotting the screen with a yellow marker and explaining what every 12-year-old who plays the game knows. Please, Eric, we love your witty and unorthodox comments, but leave the crayons home. Soccer is a simple game, so just keep the broadcasts simple.

United notes — D.C. United scored a goal on the road this week — three, in fact — in a tough 4-3 loss at the Chicago Fire. They were the club’s first goals away from RFK Stadium since its lone road win, 2-0 at lowly Chivas USA on April 2. The team will try for its second at the struggling Columbus Crew today.

United will be missing Ben Olsen and Santino Quaranta, who are with the national team, while Columbus will be without defender Frankie Hejduk for the same reason.

The U.S. team will face Cuba in Seattle on Thursday in its first game in group B of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which also includes Canada and Costa Rica.

Youth final — Argentina downed Brazil 2-1 and Nigeria beat Morocco 3-0 to set up today’s FIFA Youth World Championship game in Utrecht, Holland. The U.S. team beat Argentina 1-0 in group play before losing to Italy.

Glazer’s lads — Joel, Avi and Bryan Glazer made their first visit to Manchester United this week since their dad, Malcolm, purchased the prized club. The trio had a good talk with club director and English legend Bobby Charlton, who seems to have given his seal of approval to the takeover, but they did have to flee angry protesters.

Confederations Cup shines — There were goals galore at the Confederations Cup in Germany. Brazil beat Argentina 4-1 to win the title and scored 12 goals in five games. Host Germany scored an amazing 15 goals in fives game but gave up 12, claiming the third spot with a 4-3 win over an impressive Mexico. German-based Brazilian ace Adriano was the top scorer with five goals, all of them stunning.

Farewell, Zola — Gianfranco Zola, the tiny Italian forward who became a legend after seven seasons with Chelsea, retired this week just days before his 39th birthday. Zola, who scored 80 goals and won six trophies in England, spent last season playing in Italy.

Hello, Robinho — Real Madrid and Arsenal are rumored to be in a battle to sign Brazilian ace Robinho from Santos. Meanwhile, Madrid says English star Michael Owen is not leaving the club.

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