When you watch enough soccer, you begin to recognize the announcers. Everyone has their preferences -- some in the United States prefer to hear English accents, others American, and still others want to listen in Spanish or any other number of languages. In MLS there is an ongoing conversation about which broadcasting teams are the best (for my money, it's the TSN crew of Luke Wileman and Jason DeVos) and which teams' broadcasts dropped off a cliff this year (looking at you, Portland Timbers).
When it comes to the marquee event in soccer, the World Cup, it must be said that in the United States, ESPN's announcing crews have been very good. They did a very good job picking announcers and color commentators, and while it's perhaps disappointing that none of the play-by-play guys are American, there's a real cosmopolitan mix overall to the crews, and it appears that the priority was picking quality rather than fulfilling nationality quotas.
But while it's been strong, one announcer has been the best. It's no surprise, really. He's been one of the best around for some time.
I'm talking about Derek Rae, of course. The Scot, who has lived in the United States in the past, has been calling flawless game after flawless game in Brazil. It's about time he gets some love.
What makes Rae so good? He's got all of the attributes of a good broadcaster. Does he know soccer? He does indeed. That's obviously the foundation.
He also gives the teams on the field immense respect, no matter who's playing. He's been given some of the less-marquee games to call, but he always treats both teams as equals, and as though the game is a final.
Additionally, his ability to pronounce names is outstanding, at least to my ears. He clearly has an ability with languages and always tries to be accurate with them. Rae reportedly calls embassies to get the most accurate pronunciations -- an ingenious move that is surely more than what most announcers do.
Rae's also got a knack for using emotion at the right time. In 2010 Martin Tyler was hired to be the primary play-by-play announcer by ESPN for the World Cup, but the Englishman's subdued style didn't really jibe with Americans' desire for some modulation in tone. Another Englishman, Ian Darke, became the primary PBP man for ESPN in this tournament precisely because of his emotion in calling Landon Donovan's dramatic winner over Algeria in 2010. Although Darke has had a decent tournament this time around, he's been at his weakest when calling the most partisan games, namely his native England, when he and Steve McManaman largely threw balance out the window and got kind of bitter when Uruguay beat the Three Lions.
Maybe Rae is reduced to a fanboy when calling Scotland games, I don't know. But since his country isn't in this tournament, we don't have to worry about that.
He also seems like a nice guy (though I haven't met him in person). Dude even takes selfies with his crew:
The point is, Derek Rae is your best bet for listening to an engaging, smart broadcast that gives equal billing to both teams and injects enthusiasm at the right times. If I had my druthers, we would hear him on American TV far more often, as he's largely been absent from these shores since ESPN lost the Champions League rights a couple years back. He's getting plenty of work in Europe, but it would be nice if this World Cup reintroduced him to American audiences and put him back in networks' radars on this side of the Atlantic.
By the way, if you want to learn more about Rae, check out this interview with Jonathan Tannenwald from earlier this year.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!