What’s in today’s media column (linked here): How Ian Darke has made it over to L.A. from his home in London in one piece in time to call Sunday’s MLS Cup from Home Depot Center in Carson. It won’t be easy.
What it doesn’t include: More from Darke (his age? reported to be in his mid 50s) on other aspects of soccer, thinking globally and acting locally in this case:
Q: Is it true that before the Galaxy games you’ve recently done in the last couple of weeks, the only other MLS game you’d called was last season’s final in Toronto?
A: Yes. I do follow it, but tend to watch on a week-by-week basis and know I’ll have to get involved in the playoff stage. My main beat is the Premiere League, and it’s a bit different. But it’s my priority. You can only keep on top of it so far doing it that way. You really need to watch it to soak in all the kind of infomation you want. I think you can’t be everywhere and do everything.
The MLS that I see isn’t live, but I catch up with it on the website. The playoff games are shown here on ESPN UK, so it’s got a lot more publicity in England, with Robbie Keene and the David Beckham angle. I’d not be surprised to see two or three football writers go to this (MLS Cup) game. And if we’re honest, it’s because of Beckham and what his future is, the fact he’s such a big name. You put his name in the paper and it sells and sells, but that’s the hook. This game is far more interesting to them than say Colorado and Dallas last year. One problem was that it was in Toronto, thousands of miles from the fans of either team, and very cold. There’s no denying it had a slightly subdued feeling. This, however, should be a great atmostphere.
Q: What encourages you about how American audiences have started to pick up finally on soccer as a TV sport?
A: Well, you see 14 million watching the Women’s World Cup Final, a sport that’s supposted to be in the minority — I can’t imagine any other minority sport getting that kind of generation. There’s something on on there with soccer given the number of boys and girls who play it growing up and having that generation understand it much more. I did the 1994 World Cup, and the bredth of understanding is much more. The (2010 World Cup) goal (Landon) Donovan scored against Algeria was a huge, explosive moment (see video above).
So, there may be a majority that doesn’t give a damn about it, but I get the feeling there’s more who get it, significantly more than there were 10 or 15 years ago.
Q: American soccer, or football, is viewed in England now much better, I’d suppose?
A: The exploits of the USA National side has done an enormous amount for the game in how U.S. soccer is viewed. Face it, they finished ahead of England in the World Cup qualifying in South Africa. They performed well in the quarterfinals and held their own. They’re not a joke. They’re well respected. The French coach was telling me that recently: It’s never an easy game against them. It’st rue, 25 years ago, people thought the USA was a bit of a joke and not a serious contender. But ever since John Harkes and Tony Meoli in 1990 (World Cup), holding Italy to 1-0 in Olympic Stadium, that raised the flag — we’re here and we’re serious.
Q: How is the Galaxy, as a team with Beckham, Donovan and Keene, viewed as a ‘world team’ in your opinion? How would they fare against some of the world’s teams?
A: It’s hard to say. It’d be fascinating to see how they’d be in the Premiere League. But then it’s not really fair because they are geared toward a different competition. The last two or three matches I’ve seen, they’re very good to watch. They play terrific football. You see Beckham, at age 36, has kept himself in superb condition considering he’s a millionaire many times over and secure for the rest of his life, and with celebrity culture that he brings. But you can tell he loves the game with a passion, that nothing else is important to him. Winning a medal htere would mean the world to him because he’s made it that way. He absolutely loves the game. I’d worry about what happens to him in his life when he hasn’t go the game to play anymore. He’s been brilliant in these playoff games and involved in every goal. And Donovan is the foremost U.S. player, and has been for several years as its torch bearer. Keene still has plenty left. It’s a good team and I’d fancy them to win (Sunday), playing at home. The form book says they win and complete the dream, if you like.
Q: We’ve read some things you’ve said about the way the MLS crowns its champion. You’d be more in favor of handing the MLS title to the team that wins after the regular season ends. Why make them go through a playoff?
A: I understand it’s the American sports culture to have a playoff, and they don’t have relegation. There’s a need to keep the season alive for as many teams. That all makes good sense. But whether there needs to be 10 teams in the playoffs in an 18-team league, that’s a moot point. I don’ tknow, it’s just the culture of the game. If you play every team two times and come out with the most points, you deserve to be called champions. You could do it where the Galaxy got the championship, and now we’ll have a series of ‘big games,’ call it something else, where you have the top 10 team and the winner of that tournament automatically qualifies for CONCACAF. It would be like the FA Cup here. Change the emphasis of the playoff. I know that next year, when the MLS adds another team, there’ll be an imbalance where they won’t even play each other twice. So that’s a backwards step. That’s not a democracy, is it, for a sporting competition? It’s a shame.
Q: The “Dark Knight.” We’ve heard you referred to that way in a U.S. newspaper or two. Have you heard about it? You like it?
A: No. I haven’t got that kind of an ego, I hope. When you’re doing this job, I know it’s a cliche, but you’re only as good as your last commentary. It’s a different job, and 98 percent of it is just identifying the player. To set yourself up as some kind of demigod, that’s very pretentious, don’t you think? You’re heading for a fall, aren’t you? You’ve got to remember that we’re always aware that we’re in TV working as hired guns to an extent. Next time, they might want to just use someone else.