The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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A New Harksie?

A new and improved John Harkes showed up to do color commentary for the United States-Slovenia match. He did factual analysis of play rather than simply offer his opinions. It was a refreshing change because Harkes is quite knowledgeable when he digs beneath the platitudes he normally serves up. I wondered if one of ESPN’s English announcers (Ian Darke or Martin Tyler) had had a quiet word with him, reminding him that viewers want details they have may have missed on their screens, not bathos. Maybe Harksie has turned a corner.

There was one moment that was priceless, however. Darke, an Englishman, was wholly behind the United States team and praised its comeback in the second half. Landon Donovan had just done something spectacular and Darke announced excitedly that he was the best United States player of all time. I had to laugh. I could see Harksie sinking in his chair a few inches. I could have kissed Darke (ala Brian Clough) for putting the nail through the heart of that particular illusion. Welcome to the real world, John.

June 20, 2010   Comments Off on A New Harksie?

Clint Scores!

It was fun listening to John Harkes say nice things about Clint Dempsey yesterday during the match with Turkey. He’d obviously been told he had to. John managed to keep his distaste for the Texan out of his voice until Clint scored, and then his first comment was that the ball had bounced off Dempsey’s back into his path. Harkes’ comment had me laughing out loud. The goal was scored through grit, determination, and perfect placement of the ball, not through a lucky bounce.

Dempsey was interviewed after the victory and in his Texas drawl said that Findley’s running on top stretched the defense and created pockets which he and others were only too happy to fill. Even though he’s been in London for a while, there was not one trace of Englishness in his accent. It was pure Texan. When Harkes was playing in England, he sounded like a Wakefield collier. I suppose he wanted to fit in. Happily, his New Jersey accent has returned.

The match had many positives for the U.S., particularly the team’s ability to shift gears and move the ball forward at pace. Of course, it left us vulnerable to Turkey’s swift counter, but that’s the price you pay for playing attacking football. I have to admit I was relieved. We are not going to embarrass on the world stage after all.

May 30, 2010   1 Comment

USA vs Holland Friendly

It must be said Holland looked terrible in overcoming the United States in their friendly at Amsterdam Arena this week. They seemed lethargic, devoid of ideas, and mentally drained. Perhaps the United States is playing better defense than in the past, but this was far from the Dutch team that excited fans in Euro 2008 under van Basten. When you stop to consider that the United States would have trouble beating any first division team in Holland, this does not bode well for the Dutch in the World Cup. It was even more disappointing that John Harkes is still doing color commentary for ESPN. He seems to have toned down the worst of his negativity, however. You know the saying about people who live in glass houses. Perhaps he’s finally come to realize he’s as mortal as Eric Wynalda, and by extension, the rest of us.

March 5, 2010   Comments Off on USA vs Holland Friendly

The Two Johns

In light of the John Terry contretemps, it has finally come to light that Eric Wynalda’s wife Amy had multiple sexual encounters with Eric’s teammate, John Harkes, which prompted then-US coach Steve Sampson to leave Harkes off the 1998 US World Cup team. I’d always wondered why Sampson dumped his best player. Of course, Capello will not take such drastic action. He can’t afford to go to the World Cup without his captain.

But oh my gosh. John, we hardly knew ya. What kind of mate beds his best friend’s girl, panics and has her get an abortion, tries to quash the story in the press, and then goes home to his wife and kids? Uffda. That’s outdoing Harksie by a fair bit.

Oh, but maybe there’s a silver lining. Does this mean we won’t have to listen to John Harkes do color commentary on US broadcasts any longer?

February 4, 2010   Comments Off on The Two Johns

“Disappearing” Harksie

John Harkes is back to dissing Clint Dempsey at every opportunity. In the T&T game, he criticized him on literally every touch. It was kind of like olé, olé, only in Harke’s case, more like…bad, terrible, awful, lazy, should have been at the back post, needs to wake up, off his game, not helping his side, should be subbed, looks like he was walking, seems exhausted, maybe he’s ill or something, shouldn’t be on the field, etc.

It’s so obviously a vendetta that it’s embarrassing.

Not that Harke’s criticism is entirely unwarranted. Clint, and the entire U.S. team, can be frustrating at times. But the thing is Dempsey scores important goals at critical times, so who cares? Well, apparently John does. As I mentioned in a previous post, I would guess Harke’s real issue is that Dempsey won’t kiss ass.

Anyway, the problem was easy to fix. I simply muted the sound and Harksie disappeared.

September 10, 2009   Comments Off on “Disappearing” Harksie

Who’s Your Daddy, Holger?

According to The Guardian, FIFA Technical Study member Holger Osieck praised Clint Dempsey for “winning nearly every ball in the air, keeping possession, and working hard” in USA’s 3-0 win over Egypt. Osieck also praised his “tireless” performance against Spain.

Doesn’t Osieck know that he needs to check in with John Harkes before making such comments?

June 28, 2009   Comments Off on Who’s Your Daddy, Holger?

USA versus Spain

It’s always nice to be taken lightly. Just show up and the U.S. team will fold like a carelessly assembled stack of cards. Egypt paid the price, and now Spain. Against Spain, the U.S. strategy was simple: keep the defense organized in two tight lines of four and give Spain the flanks, because Reira, Xavi, Fabrigas, Torres, and Villa prefer to come inside. Stand there and let them flounder against superior, compacted numbers. Only Sergio Ramos overlapped in the first half, but not often, though Torres had an amazing chance on the right side after leaving Bocanegra for dead.

I think Spain really missed Iniesta, who personifies the receive, pass, move philosophy of Barcelona so well. What I couldn’t figure out was why Spain didn’t adjust right away. If it was obvious to me, it should have been obvious to the players on the field. Play from width and stretch the United States across the field.

I found Altidore’s first half goal interesting. When he turned inside against Capdevila, he had a free shot on goal. The two central defenders were busy attacking Dempsey, whom they perceived as the real threat, and Sergio Ramos was still tracking back after making an overlapping run. It was the kind of mistake that no U.S. central defender would make.

In the second half, Spain did attack from the flanks whenever possible with Riera, Ramos, Torres, and the substitute Cazorla constantly making runs. Not only that, they upped the tempo and attacked on every possession, knowing they might actually lose if they didn’t. Tim Howard in goal was huge. Ricardo Clark in midfield was a revelation. Oneywu and DeMerit in the middle were solid. Donovan never stopped running, and Charlie Davis’ speed up front bothered Puyol.

Of course, John Harkes, the color commentator, continued to trash Clint Dempsey the entire game, and was left speechless when Clint scored the second goal for the U.S. I loved how Dempsey shut him up with his brilliant play on the field. When Harkes finally found his voice again, instead of complimenting Dempsey, he praised a pass given by Feilhaber, who had one of the assists. His final comment was that Clint had gotten lucky.

Oh John! Hey Harksie! I hear Kearny, New Jersey is looking for a soccer coach and they’ll take anyone.

June 25, 2009   Comments Off on USA versus Spain

JP and Harksie

As American football (soccer) fans, we have the dubious honor of listening to JP Dellacamera call important national games and John Harkes provide color commentary. JP (no periods), as he is called, has no idea what’s happening on the field and spouts the first cliche that pops into his head. By the law of averages, his comments sometimes hit the mark, but not through intelligent observation or real experience. He is a far cry from English commentators who actually describe the action on the field, including what’s difficult at first sight to fully comprehend, because goal mouth action can be a blur on television. JP’s ignorance is an insult to American fans.

Interestingly, while watching the United States beat a very tired and battered Egyptian team 3-0 in the Confederations Cup, I found Harkes, the first American midfielder to play in the English Premier League, to be worse than Dellacamera. He spent the entire game criticizing Clint Dempsey, the midfielder who starts for Fulham. He was lazy, didn’t track back, couldn’t pass, needed to be replaced so someone better could be in there, was slow, gave the ball away, and generally stank. When Dempsey scored the most important goal of his international career to put the U. S. through to the next round, Harkes complimented the cross, but not the header until JP prompted him to do so. He then mentioned how bad the defender had been. Is Harksie somehow threatened by a player who has skills he never possessed himself?

In any case, I find it hard to believe how stupid the American media (ESPN) and soccer federation believe we are as fans. Neither of these guys would last one game in Europe or Central or South America before they’d be yanked (no pun intended), never to be heard from again. If JP and Harksie can’t add anything to our enjoyment and understanding of the game, why are they broadcasting?

June 23, 2009   Comments Off on JP and Harksie