On May 17th, I had the luxury of traveling to New York to represent the OnceAMetro team at a roundtable discussion hosted by ESPN. The event focused on the upcoming World Cup in Russia and how ESPN, despite not having any broadcasting rights, is going to bring it’s viewers the coverage they crave.
A section of the time was spent listening to past players speak about their World Cup memories. Mario Kempes, Hugo Sanchez, Tato Noriega, Shaka Hislop, and Herculez Gomez were all sharing their thoughts and memories of the World Cup in their lives. The undying love of the sport started young in each and every one of them, with the World Cup being the pinnacle of their passion. Before all that, though, host Sebastian Salazar spoke about ESPN’s plans for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
During the usual summer time ESPN program, the show covers the baseball games that took place, sprinkles in a few NBA rumors, then heaps together a top 10 that consists of web gems and home runs. That is all going to change this year as the network is looking to focus heavily on the World Cup, allowing ESPNFC to take over for a majority of the time.
There will be match previews, highlights, analysis, coverage from reporters on sight, and overall discussion from the crew at ESPNFC. This will be a welcomed sight to many soccer fans in the US, even if most are still bitter about the results form qualifying.
This is a big step in the right direction for soccer broadcasting in the United States. ESPN already made a huge contribution to the game by introducing ESPN+, allowing MLS fans to watch hundreds of MLS matches throughout the year. Coupled with a new review show from Taylor Twellman, ESPN really seems to be connecting to the sport we all love so much.
Switching focus to some Red Bulls oriented news, I also got the chance to chat with Sebastian Salazar after the event. The news about Jesse Marsch or Greg Vanney potentially being the next USMNT coach had been rattling my brain since I first read the rumors, so I asked Salazar what he thought about the two candidates.
“My brain right now says Marsch...based on what we have right now in the American talent pool...we have great athletes on the team, so i think that would work,” Salazar stated. He also mentioned Gregg Berhalter possibly being in the conversation, but is fairly confident that Marsch or Vanny would be better suited for the nation.
I also got the chance to squeeze in a question about Rooney signing for DC United, a long time rival of the Red Bulls. Like many MLS fans, he did not seem too thrilled with the decision.
“It’s the first big money bullet the club has ever spent, and I think in some ways, that should be a symbolic one. The fact they went after a guy who fits all the narratives MLS is trying to escape...it did not sit well with me.”
It is not hard to see why Salazar, who is a season ticket holder at DC United, would feel unsettled by the Rooney signing. Bringing in a guy who seems to be past his prime, but at one time was incredible, is just what MLS has been trying to move away from. The fact the club bought him as their landmark signing shows that we are still far off the MLS we want to see.
Overall, the event was a great way to get excited about a World Cup that has not caught much interest since the US failed to qualify. ESPN knows there are still many thousands of people that will be tuning in for the other CONCACAF teams, so this new summer programming will benefit them greatly. With Michael Murillo and Fidel Escobar heading to Russia to represent Panama, Red Bulls fans will at least get the chance to show some pride during the festivities.