So we’re sitting around at the Fox Sports Studios in Century City back in early December. The sun has barely risen on a Friday morning call for all soccer hands on deck – particularly Southern California residents Landon Donovan and Alexi Lalas.
They wanted to be there, and maybe they didn’t, as the draw for the 2018 World Cup was taking place live in Russia and carried on FS1. A 2 1/2 hour show was devoted to the selection of the 32-team bracket.
The buzz in the air was interesting – anticipation for the announcement, but deflation knowing the U.S. isn’t one of them.
Team America, f*%# no.
“You have to address the elephant in the room, right?” admitted Donovan, who scored twice for the USMNT in the 2002 World Cup and three times in the 2010 event. “Every step of the way, it’s going to be a little bit of reopening the scab. It just might have healed, but watching this (draw) now, it opens it up, and this summer, the lead up to the World Cup event, it’ll be the same thing.”
And now we’re here. And those words are true six months later.
“People are rightfully angry about it,” Lalas, the defender for the USMNA in the ’94 World Cup, added that day. “So maybe this will serve as a reminder. The fact the U.S. isn’t here is part of the story. I understand. We all feel part of that hurt.”
Is there a less painful “but” in there somewhere?
Donovan: “But the reality is, it’s still the biggest spectacle on Earth. We now have to find storylines that are exciting to us, personally. And then let the general public know about them as well. There are players that will break out into mega stars, and we have to help people understand who they might be.”
Lalas: “But I’ve been around a long time, talking about soccer — there are plenty of stars, plenty of games, plenty of narratives to follow. We are citizens of the world and citizens of the soccer world. This is the biggest event in our culture.”
So what are we supposed to know, not know or pretend to know about this whole event that starts Thursday morning:
* Fox Sports has the U.S. English-language rights to this event – it paid $400 million for it, plus 2022 — and will show games pretty much in the 5 a.m., 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. windows, on the main Fox channel (KTTV-Channel 11, 38 games) and FS1 (26 games).
The coverage starts Thursday at 7 a.m. on Channel 11 from the Fox Broadcaster Center with “World Cup Live” hosted by Rob Stone, Alexi Lalas, Guus Hiddink and Lothar Matthaus. It is followed by the Russia-Saudi Arabia opening match (8 a.m., Channel 11), called by JP Dellacamera with Tony Meola in Moscow.
* Other key games this first weekend:
Egypt vs. Uruguay, Friday at 5 a.m., FS1
Morroco vs. Iran, Friday at 8 a.m., Channel 11
Portugal vs. Spain, Friday at 11 a.m., Channel 11
France vs. Australia, Saturday at 3 a.m., FS1
Argentina vs. Iceland, Saturday at 6 a.m., Channel 11
Peru vs. Denmark, Saturday at 9 a.m., FS1
Croatia vs. Nigeria, Saturday at noon, FS1
Costa Rica vs. Serbia, Sunday at 5 a.m., Channel 11
Germany vs. Mexico, Sunday at 8 a.m., FS1
Brazil vs. Switzerland, Sunday at 11 a.m., FS1
Sweden vs. Korea, Monday at 5 a.m., FS1
Belgium vs Panama, Monday at 8 a.m., FS1
Tunisia vs. England, Monday at 11 a.m., FS1
Colombia vs. Japan, Tuesday at 5 a.m., FS1
Poland vs. Senegal, Tuesday at 8 a.m., Channel 11
Russia vs. Egypt, Tuesday at 11 a.m., Channel 11
* How it all ends:
Quarterfinals are July 6 and 7 at 7 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Semifinals are July 10 and 11 at 11 a.m.
Third place match is July 14 at 7 a.m.
Championship is July 15 at 8 a.m.
* John Strong and former USMNT 2010 midfielder Stu Holden are the main play-by-play and analysts for games and join Dellacamera and Meola in Russia. But the other four Fox broadcast teams — Derek Rae and Aly Wagner, Glenn Davis and Cobi Jones, Jorge Perez Navarro and Mariano Trujillo, and Mark Followill and Warren Barton – will call some 30 games in West L.A. off TV monitors, a practice more and more common in U.S. network global coverage of sports during the Olympics in particular as a way to save on costs.
* Telemundo – KVEA in Los Angeles – and Universo, under the parent company of NBCUniversal, have the Spanish-language rights in the U.S., using four announce teams all on site to cover all games, spanning 500 broadcast hours.
It is anchored by the legendary Andres Cantor, the five-time Emmy Award winner doing his 10th World Cup and eight as a play-by-play man. Former Mexican national team member Manuel Sol will be Cantor’s broadcast partner on 14 games in the group stage.
“We want to create a cultural movement, and literally a mind shift to Telemundo,” said Ray Warren, president of Telemundo Deportes, speaking in a conference call from Miami back in November. “And also move away from previous people who have had the World Cup, and those who may have it in a different language this year. We want to let everyone know we will have the most exciting and authentic coverage to all Hispanics across all platforms regardless of language.”
* Of note: Viviana Vila, an Argentinian journalist, will join Fox’s Wagner, the USWMT former star, as the first woman to do commentary on U.S. coverage of a World Cup match. Wagner talks more about this assignment for the AP Sports podcast.
* NBCUniversal stepped up efforts to draw viewers to its Spanish-language World Cup coverage in the United States by scheduling a simulcast on NBCSN of Sunday’s match between Brazil and Switzerland, according to the Associated Press.
Fox is scheduled to broadcast the game on FS1.
NBCSN is the primary outlet for NBC’s Premier League coverage.
Fox did not immediately respond to NBC’s announcement.
* In a Kevin Draper piece for the New York Times headlined, “The Books Are Ready for the World Cup … The Team Was Not,” it makes the point that, with the U.S. failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia that begins Thursday, authors who had written manuscripts based on a certain assumption would now be looking a bit sheepish when trying to go on a tour to sell their works to the public.
Nevertheless, those who desire something to read for context to this global circus will have plenty to pick from.
Again, there’s always Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch: A Fan’s Life” from 1992” to fall back on in a pinch.
Released last April:
# “Soccernomics (2018 World Cup Edition): Why England Loses; Why Germany, Spain, and France Win; and Why One Day Japan, Iraq, and the United States Will Become Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport,” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
Those books released last month:
# “Men in Blazers Present Encyclopedia Blazertannica: A Suboptimal Guide to Soccer, America’s Sport of the Future Since 1972,” by Roger Bennett and Michael Davies
# “Masters of Modern Soccer: How the World’s Best Play the Twenty-First-Century Game,” by Grant Wahl
# “The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer’s Next Superstars,” by Sebastian Abbot
# “I Believe That We Will Win: The Path to a U.S. Men’s World Cup Victory,” by Phil West
Out this month:
# “Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World’s Biggest Sports Scandal,” by Ken Bensinger
# “What’s Wrong With Us: A Coach’s Blunt Take on the State of American Soccer After a Lifetime on the Touchline,” by Bruce Arena with Steve Kettmann
Coming out in July:
# “The Secret Footballer: What Goes on Tour … Isn”t Going to Stay on Tour Any More,” which follows up from the 2012 debut of “I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting the Lid on the Beautiful Game” as well as the 2013 “Tales From The Secret Footballer,” the 2014 “The Secret Footballer’s Guide to the Modern Game,” the 2015 “The Secret Footballer: Access All Areas,” and the 2016 “How To Win: Lessons from the Premier League, by The Secret Footballer with The Secret Psychologist.” For more background, check out the BBC Sports story last April entitled: “The Secret Footballer: I want to ‘out’ myself but fear I’ll be sued”