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View from New York: the beautiful game, the American way

Our man in New York, John Riordan, endured FOX’s coverage of the champions League final last Saturday.

David Beckham and Thierry Henry: 'Although Major League Soccer is on the rise, it’s not even the fairest reflection of how strong the game is here'.
David Beckham and Thierry Henry: 'Although Major League Soccer is on the rise, it’s not even the fairest reflection of how strong the game is here'.
Image: Jason Redmond/AP/Press Association Images

UNSURPRISINGLY, BARCELONA AND Manchester United had top billing on American television on Saturday afternoon.

Due to ESPN’s continued reluctance to extend their budget to European football, they missed out on a decent Champions League season and – though one-sided – an incredible final.

So instead, the season played out on the cheap and shoddy Fox Soccer Channel (FSC) before the main event showed up on the main Fox channel, one of the big four networks in this country.

It wasn’t exactly primetime but a big deal nonetheless and a testament to football’s steadily rising profile. And it was also a handy way to kick off the Memorial Day weekend, the official start to summer and the barbecue.

However, the manner of the coverage itself proved once again that there’s a glass ceiling against which the game ricochets back downward every so often.

Martin Tyler and Alan Smith provided the commentary -  no gripes there. Nor was it a source of regret that regular FSC contributor Warren Barton was unceremoniously booted out of the analyst chair.

In came Curt Menefee as host, normally posted in FOX’s NFL coverage, and bless him, he didn’t have a notion. His analysts Eric Wynalda and Brad Friedel were hamstrung by the production team’s simplistic approach, one that has been received badly Stateside for treating the viewer as ignorant.

We got the rundown about Pique and Shakira, the Ryan Giggs affair and a questionable top-10 of goals which inexplicably had Dejan Stankovic’s volley from the halfway line at number five.


Most insulting was the decision to give another regular NFL analyst a slot in which, for larks, the differences between Gridiron and the Beautiful Game were explored.

It was worse than I can describe. The increasingly irritating former New York Giant Michael Strahan pointed out that, for example, you can’t touch the ball with your hands in one game and, amusingly, you can in the other.

“In football we get a penalty for hitting with our helmet,” he continued, “but in soccer they score goals with their heads!”

The benchmark for this kind of thing has to be the way Sky Sports intelligently presents the NFL to a British and Irish audience which is a few notches above niche.

Sadly, Fox enjoyed a 64% increase on last year’s final which was not a surprise given the two teams involved but still it was an opportunity missed.

I’m not here a year yet but I have been around enough football people to know that the depth of knowledge and appreciation for the game in this country is underestimated.

Although Major League Soccer is on the rise, it’s not even the fairest reflection of how strong the game is here.

I went to my first New York Red Bulls game of the 2011 season last week (a Wednesday evening clash against champions Colorado) and the standard of the home team in particular was very disappointing.

However, the grassroots are thriving and the coaching is intelligent.

It’s just such a pity that the media continues to treat it as an exotic game, one that will get back in its corner when the real stuff gets cranking again. And who knows when that will happen?

John Riordan writes a column for the Irish Examiner. He works as a freelance journalist in New York; check out his blog here.

Read the rest of John Riordan’s columns for theScore here

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