An Ode to American Soccer Commentary

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On May 6th, 2016, the 9th game of the season against the New York Red Bulls, I heard one sentence uttered by former Orlando City play-by-play announcer Jeff Radcliffe that changed the way I watched City games forever. "Here’s Ricky with the shot!!" My first thought was, ‘Who the heck is Ricky,’ but then I realized Radcliffe was referring to captain and Brazilian soccer legend Kaka. I was appalled that not only was Kaka being called by his first name (Ricardo), but a nickname. I had never seen anything like it in my years as a fan and follower of the game, especially in the English Premier League (Go Chelsea!). I cringe at the jargon and phrases used by American play-by-play announcers, and hope that there is a dual airing of the game on Telemundo so that I can semi-understand good commentating. I’ll even watch the game with the volume on mute and provide my own commentary. This moment made me contemplate the reasons why American soccer commentary is so bad, and how exactly would we go about fixing it.

First, calling players by their first names. This is just a no-no. I don’t even understand the logic or decision-making beyond this. You can use their full names, but not their first names alone. Kaka is Kaka, not Ricky. Sacha Kjlestan should not be Sacha, Chris Mueller is not Chris. Dom Dwyer is not Dom. Yoshi Yotun (please come back!!!) is not Yoshi the Mario character. Most importantly, Americans don’t seem to understand the whole "single name" concept used by many famous players like Ronaldo, Pele, Kaka, and Orlando City star Nani. He is not Luis Nani, he isn’t Luis, he’s just Nani. End of story.

Secondly, the words and phrases used by American soccer analysts just don’t work. Sometimes, I’ve heard them try and imitate Spanish commentators and their famous "Goooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaal," which just does not work in an American accent. It hurts to hear. They also tend to not stop talking, whether or not their conversation is actually beneficial to the viewer’s experience. In-game ads for things like Audi, Publix, and Orlando International Airport (???) take away from the experience of watching the game. I don’t need to hear things about Papa John’s or how Orlando International Airport is the best airport in Orlando, I wanna hear about the game that I’m watching. Also, commentators tend to use random names for opposing teams. Toronto becomes TFC, Atlanta United turns into ATL, and Real Salt Lake becomes RSL. Please, please, please, call a team by their actual name, even if it has to be abbreviated (Toronto, Atlanta, Salt Lake), because I can’t stand hearing "TFC" anymore.

Sometimes, commentators just simply don’t understand the game. Last weekend against NYCFC, current play-by-play analyst Evan Weston claimed numerous times that Orlando City would be "fine with a point." As a soccer team or player, you should never be satisfied with a point. Teams should always be hungry for 3 points, especially with the amount of chances we had at Yankee Stadium. I don’t ever want to hear that Orlando should be "happy they got a point." Using phrases like "PK," "Inside the 6," and many others just aren’t used in the rest of the world.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the brilliant commentary of Arlo White and Lee Dixon, or the exquisite analysis of Rebecca Lowe, but if the MLS really wants to try and match the level of European soccer, they need to improve their commentary to help rein in new fans and fanatics. It’s as simple as cleaning up the language and phrases used by current Orlando announcers, and allow Miguel Gallardo to provide more tactical analysis of the game. The level of play in MLS is still nowhere near the English Premier League or German Bundesliga, but if we want to elevate the status of American soccer, we need to invest in the commentary, before this generation decides that baseball is more interesting.

So who’s gonna write one of these next week about MLS referees?