Tuesday afternoon, ESPN's conglomerate will combine to televise 18 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Of course, one will have the stage mostly to itself.
ESPN does few things better than it does international soccer, and will continue to make its stamp on the sport Tuesday with 17 qualifiers airing on the network's ESPN3/WatchESPN service. In fact, if you have that service, ESPN will super-serve you. The network, as it did on Friday for the first World Cup qualifying date this month, will air FIFA World Cup Whiparound: Quest to Qualify. This comparison gets old, but yes, it's basically the Red Zone channel for World Cup Qualifying.
Whiparound airs from 2 to 5 p.m. ET and is hosted by Adrian Healey and Julie Foudy. Fourteen matches should be airing during that timeslot, including games featuring the Netherlands, Spain and France. I got a look at it on Friday and was very impressed with how they kept things moving and kept going to relevant highlights.
While there's no bias here, it's clear that the featured game for many people in this country is the United States' showdown with Mexico on Tuesday in Columbus. With a little help, the Americans can qualify for Brazil with a victory over their biggest rival. ESPN is, appropriately, treating it like Monday Night Football and other tentpole events.
ESPN will air two and a half hours of pre-game coverage live from Columbus. ESPN FC will broadcast live from Columbus Crew Stadium from 5:30 to 7 p.m. ET, and then a dedicated one-hour pre-game show will lead into live match coverage at 8 p.m. ET. Seriously, American soccer fans, two and a half hours to preview a key qualifying match. The sport has broken another barrier in terms of television coverage in this country.
The man who wears the No. 10 for ESPN's soccer coverage, Bob Ley, will topline a cast of 11 people covering the game in English. ESPN FC's host, Dan Thomas, will also be there. Kasey Keller, Alexi Lalas, Jorge Ramos and Shaka Hislop will serve as studio analysts for the evening. You know it's a big game when I'm more confused by how many different people are covering soccer than I am for American football.
Ian Darke, whom were all going to miss a lot when ESPN loses World Cup rights, will have the play-by-play. Taylor Twellman and Alejandro Moreno serve as analysts, while Jeremy Schaap and John Sutcliffe report from the sideline. It is a rare sideline gig for Schaap, who served as a reporter during the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. He'll remain on the Team USA beat through the World Cup in Brazil, provided the United States don't fall apart and hold on to a qualifying spot.
ESPN has a ton of other stuff happening, with SportsCenter segments, a late night edition of ESPN FC recapping the match, and three different studio sets. It'll be a hallmark day for the sport and the network that covers it best.