David Beckham can come back or go. Players change. Managers change.
Announcers are the key to building a TV audience for sport.
What's football without John Madden? What made Chicago baseball so memorable, other than Harry Carey? Hockey has Don Cherry. Basketball has Dick Vitale.
The beautiful game has Ray Hudson. And the American game needs him.
Hudson is a Brit, specifically a Geordie, from England's northeast. He played a while at home. then came here in 1977, and finished his career as an MLS coach, at Miami and with D.C. United.
But it's his announcing that makes him special. It's his voice that the game needs.
Hudson already has a cult following, and did get some work during the 2002 World Cup, but for the most part he works in obscurity, for GolTV, a bizarre mix from Canal where the programs are in English but the commercials are in Spanish.
There he has developed what critics call a "cult" following. But so what? What else are American soccer fans but a cult, and a pretty small one at that. What a cult needs to grow is a leader, and Hudson is one who won't run off to Spain or Germany or Italy.
What we're stuck with, instead, are people like J.P. Dellacamera, who announces goals like it's hockey and another half-dozen will come shortly. And commentators like John Harkes, a nice fella but incredibly technical. Or worse, Christopher Sullivan, for whom the word execreble is too good. He knows the game, he wants you to know he knows the game, but he's so lost in the details you just don't care.
Hudson, as you can hear from the clips I have here, is not technical. He loves the game, and his love comes through. When a game is a stinker he says so. When someone is doing something beautiful he screams it. Phrases like "ya-ya" in the middle of a play, or his verbal digressions (a "team looking wobblier than Rod Stewart after a twenty-four hour bender") are legendary.
Time for the legend to grow.
ESPN needs to hire this guy. Let him spend a summer watching MLS games. Let him show his enthusiasm for the U.S. National sides -- women as well as men. Get him on Sportscenter every week with highlights.
Soccer in this country is in deeper trouble than it knows. Money is drying up, and it's going to disappear more quickly in minor sports like this one. The enthusiasm created by a generation of boomer children playing the game is fading, and no one outside the few cities where MLS plays has any opportunity to give a care. (The league currently has nothing east of Houston or south of Washington, D.C.)
They tried the star power of Beckham. He couldn't win games by himself -- no player can. LA spent so much on him and Landon Donovan they leaked goals like a sieve, and the fans learned to stay away. Worse, Beckham finally gave up. Even if he comes back from Milan his star is faded, his time limited.
It's an announcer we need. It's someone who goes crazy when anyone scores, who tells us when in the game to look at the screen, who shows his passion and shares it through the speakers. Hudson is Dick Vitale, he's John Madden, he's Marv Albert and Harry Carey. He may not know as much as others. But he cares more. And it shows through.
If you want people to care about something give us someone who cares about it. And if you really want ratings, pair him with Andres Cantor (right).
Or you can do what you're doing now, give the game back to the rest of the world.