Anelka and France flamed out early. Rooney had little impact and his England team followed soon after. Landon Donovan was an American hero in the group stage, but couldn’t save the Yanks against Ghana. But one man has stood out as I’ve watched nearly every World Cup game on ESPN, and that’s announcer Ian Darke.
I’d come into these games looking forward to Martin Tyler giving me the play-by-play. I’d already grown accustomed to hearing him call my beloved Manchester City matches in the English Premier League on Fox Soccer Net. And now he provides the narration for EA’s FIFA 10, telling me over and over about Tevez’ “bulldog-like approach.” He’s also done a fine job calling World Cup ties.
But Ian Darke has outshined his Sky colleagues on the ESPN broadcasts from South Africa. I’ve caught random references to The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan in his colorful commentary. His favored Portsmouth F.C. might have just been relegated to Championship football, but after almost two decades of covering Premier League games in England his star is rising on this side of the pond.
Tossing any sense of neutrality out the window during the U.S. team’s matches against Slovenia and Algeria, Darke and his partner John Harkes (a former U.S. captain), urged the Yanks on. “The World Cup hopes of the United States hanging by a thread here,” he said as time was running out against Algeria. “This is a real nail-biter.” And when Donovan finally put the ball in the back of the net, his call will long be remembered by American fans:
Only in soccer do the words “Go, go, USA!” flow so naturally out of the mouth of a Brit. And I can’t wait until 2014 to hear him call more U.S. games on the sport’s biggest stage. In the meantime, this morning’s match-up between Japan and Paraguay will have to do.