As he heads into his fifth year calling the Union, play-by-play man JP Dellacamera looks back

How Dellacamera's distinctive voice became a lasting impression

 

How many memorable moments in U.S. Soccer history have Union play-by-play man JP Dellacamera as the soundtrack?

There are many, but it’s one that far and away stands out from all the rest.

Coincidentally, it’s also an iconic instant in the progressive movement of not just soccer, but women’s soccer in the United States.

Everyone remembers the lasting image of Brandi Chastain – her black sports bra – and the euphoria that surrounded the penalty kick she scored in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup final.  That goal made Chastain and many other players on that unforgettable team household names; it kick started a professional women’s league and as a whole made soccer an in-your-face entity on the cusp of a new millennia in America.

Everyone remembers that moment.

Perhaps no one more than Dellacamera, who was the descriptive television voice for ABC in an event and a moment the New Yorker later dubbed as "the summer that changed soccer."

“For sure 1999 Women’s World Cup is something I will never forget,” said Dellacamera, who celebrated his 62nd birthday last month. “It captured the country’s interest, especially the non-soccer, jump on the bandwagon kind of fan. Guys were wearing Mia Hamm jerseys, and I thought that was cool. It does not matter what I would do the rest of my broadcast career; I do not think I would ever give as much respect to anything as that moment. It was the highest rated television show in not just the history of women’s soccer – but in the history of women sports.”

Ask Dellacamera to discuss it, and the story returns as if Chastain scored a few hours ago, much less a moment that will celebrate its 15th year this July.

“They sold out the Rose Bowl. Women’s soccer sold out the Rose Bowl,” Dellacamera continued. “The Brandi Chastain moment is something that will be remembered forever. I mean I still see it on TV over and over again, documentaries were done over it and that is probably the goal call I would remember, one of the two I will remember the most – and all I said was ‘if she scores here they win.’  After she scored, I remember I just screamed GOAL as loud as I could, and I laid out for what seemed like an eternity.”

An eternity is the length of time it feels like Dellacamera’s distinctive baritone has been a household voice for the sport in this country. His story is unique one in that he was never really handpicked, but through determination and an innate knowledge of the game “he loves,” for over three decades Dellacamera very quietly became the voice of soccer in America.

Another moment that clearly stands out to Dellacamera was also being the voice behind Paul Caliguiri’s goal against Trinidad and Tobago in 1989 that sealed berth in the 1990 FIFA World Cup for the United States, its first finals since in 40 years (1950).

“That Trinidad game was massive for both countries,” Dellacamera recalled. “I remember people [in Trinidad] painting their faces red, painting their cars red, and painting their houses red.  I remember that Trinidad government declaring the next day, the next work day a national holiday.  They expected their country to win…watching the game and seeing Caliguiri’s goal, I will always remember because it set the tone for why everything else has happened today in U.S. Soccer.”

And for what reason exactly?

“It was already known [the United States] was going to host the 1994 World Cup so now you start with a little momentum, sponsors jump on board with some that were already there and continued their involvement. Look at where U.S. Soccer is now and you compare them with another country like Canada who made it to the 1986 World Cup and we have not seen them since. So everything that has happened on the men’s side can be in large part a thank you to Paul Caliguiri, because I think that set the tone for everything that has happened since then.”

Getting his feet wet

You’d have to go back to the 1980s to find the origins of Dellacamera’s foray into broadcasting soccer matches and even before that to find out why a kid from a baseball crazed town like Boston fell in love with soccer in the first place. Back when the MISL was trying to find life locally on the PRISM network, Dellacamera became its lead voice. It was a time in which his career and the continued growth of soccer in the U.S. were headed on a symbiotic path.

“I started out in minor league hockey but I always liked soccer,” said Dellacamera. “I like the fact the ball, just like in hockey where the puck is always moving, the ball is always moving. Soccer is non-stop action, so those became my two favorite sports growing up. With soccer my biggest break probably came in the early 1980s, when I started to do indoor soccer, I hit a crossroads with hockey, spent a lot of years [calling] minor league hockey and was not given a chance to go to the NHL. 

The NHL was much smaller then and at the time indoor soccer was pretty big. [And the MISL] was the biggest thing we had for soccer in this country because there was no viable league at one point. When the NASL folded that was it, all you had was indoor. The best players in this country played indoors. So I thought indoor soccer was the root to go and I started there and an opportunity came up with Bud Sports, owned by Anheuser Busch, to do some outdoor soccer stuff, that led to U.S. national team events and it went from there.”

From there Dellacamera’s career blossomed into one that found him as a talent for both of his passions, finally receiving that NHL call when he became one of ESPN’s voices during the playoffs. ESPN however saw greater potential in Dellacamera as a soccer personality and through the company he covered five of his seven FIFA men’s World Cups beginning with the 1986 installment of the tournament in Mexico.

However, it was traveling to Italy for the 1990 FIFA World Cup that resonated just how important of event it was to a nation of people – firsthand.

“My first World Cup in person was 1990; it was in Italy and my grandparents are from Italy so that for me was huge,” Dellacamera recalled. “I grew up as an American but was from an Italian background so to witness firsthand the passion of the sport, you saw in the streets of Italy was simply incredible. “I was there for the semifinals when [Italy] lost against Argentina and it was like a death in the family.  The next day the streets were quiet, even in the stadium that night in Naples, you could’ve hear a pin drop. Italy was expected to go far. It was their country, they were expected get to the final and they did not make it. So I got to witness first hand really what it meant to a country, to live and die with the World Cup and the sheer passion of the sport.”

Constant commentary

When the Union announced Dellacamera would be the voice of its local broadcasts in 2009, regardless of on what network, fans of the team were instantly given an authentic soccer experience. The talent around Dellacamera over these past four years has been a rotating carousel, each however going on to bigger and better things.” Dellacamera first worked with now NBC Sports analyst Kyle Martino, followed by ESPN color analyst Taylor Twellman, American goalkeeping pioneer Bob Rigby and ended last season alongside former Union forward Alejandro Moreno.

The pairing of Dellacamera with Twellman lasted just one season, but before Twellman left he penned this letter in which he cited Dellacamera as “the best in the business.” 

This season will find indoor goalkeeping great Peter Pappas alongside Dellacamera in the booth, an opportunity Pappas was quite ecstatic to have, taking to social media to express his excitement and gratitude:

In addition to his work on Union broadcasts, Dellacamera writes a monthly column that appears on philadelphiaunion.com entitled Play-by-Play Plus.  In what is shaping up to be an exciting season for the Union with so many new faces across the board, Dellacamera remains a constant – a familiar, authentic voice that has and will continue to shape the soccer landscape in Philadelphia.

A notion that suits Dellacamera just fine as he looks ahead for what’s in store for the Union – more great calls and perhaps a few more defining moments to savor.

“We have gotten to a point now where people expect every game on with all the highlights, sideshows, and access at the ready through cell phones, computers, whatever,” said Dellacamera. “That means have gotten to that point now where we expect and demand more from our coverage. It’s important for me to still come off knowledgeable because I take what I relay to fans very seriously.”

Glance at Dellacamera’s impact on the sport in America over the past 30 years and you’ll see that last statement is apparent.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com