ESPN commentator Adrian Healey, the voice of the beautiful game since 1998, met Yale soccer fans in the flesh on Thursday night.
In front of a tight-knit crowd of 25 at the Office of International Students and Scholars, Healey and comedian and former professional soccer player Kevin Flynn discussed their favorite stadiums, charted the trajectory of soccer in America over the past 30 years and lamented the English national team’s disappointing performance.
“Being a commentator is like being the pianist at a school choir show,” Healey said when asked what commentators think about inside the booth. “You’re not the reason why people are there. But if you’re not there, people will miss it.”
He added that he always aims to add something to the game rather than detract from it.
Healey, who covered the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this past summer, named the Colombian reaction to James Rodriguez’s goal in the Colombia vs. Ivory Coast game as one of his favorite moments of the summer. In response to their coordinated victory dance routine, he spontaneously called out, “Move over Shakira, there’s a new Colombian number one!” which Shakira tweeted about afterwards.
The hour-long dialogue between Healey, Flynn and several members of the audience focused on how soccer in America has changed over the past few decades. Healey and Flynn said that play is improving and the national team is getting better. The pair added that support for national teams is moving away from the wholesome mom-and-kid-at-the-game demographic towards a younger, hipper, rowdier fan base, thanks to grassroots groups like American Outlaws and Sam’s Army.
“Ten years ago, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what my favorite stadium is. Teams were playing in football stadiums. But now, I can say Portland, and I can say Philadelphia. The stadium in Portland is so embedded in the city,” Healey said.
Since its inception in 1996, Major League Soccer has managed to build a stable infrastructure and develop a sensible financial plan, according to Healey, and both fans and stadiums have shifted towards European-style support.
Still, Healey and Flynn remarked that the barriers to entry for children are much higher in America than in the rest of the world.
“Soccer is still very much a white, middle-class sport,” Flynn said. “There’s a lot of money attached to youth soccer. The dream is to get to the point where all you need to play is a ball.”
They also mentioned that there is a severe lack of integration of the Latino community in the U.S., and African-American talent remains largely untapped.
Healey remained skeptical when the subject of the Qatar World Cup in 2022 was brought up. Even though the head of FIFA claimed the organization was attempting to “sow the seeds of the game,” Qatar was still an extreme choice as the host nation, said Flynn. Temperatures can rise to 120 degrees during the day and strict local laws prohibiting alcohol will pose serious logistical issues for fans and locals alike.
Healey and Flynn wrapped up by concluding that FIFA is so powerful that it won’t change its questionable practices until it is forced to, perhaps by an international organization at the level of the United Nations.
Attendees said they were very pleased to match a face to Healey’s ever-present disembodied voice.
“Commentators have a special place in the heart of every soccer fan because you remember their voice during the best moments you’re ever going to have,” Imani Williams said. Williams is a cofounder of the New Haven chapter of American Outlaws, an organized fan base for the United States National Soccer Teams.
“[For me, that moment was] the Shakira comment. My family is Colombian, and we loved it,” Stefanie Acevedo — secretary of New Haven’s American Outlaws — added. “Watching all the Colombia games for me was just insane. But that’s what sticks with you, that comment.”
Healey currently serves as lead announcer for ESPN’s coverage of Major League Soccer.