SI is reporting that Fox is grooming Gus Johnson to be its lead play by play man for the 2018 World Cup. Gus has been doing some MLS work. He will start broadcasting Champions League matches, beginning with Real Madrid vs. Manchester United this month. He will be a major presence for Fox-televised soccer events moving forward, including the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Soccer fans should not treat this as a “Dave O’Brien/2006” level calamity. O’Brien was thrust in after a cursory crash course and paired with a terrible color commentator. Gus will be engaged with the sport for five years, which is enough time to develop fluency. He’s diligent. He’s professional. He should be fine on that front. He has even taken to playing pickup soccer to “learn the game.” Method broadcasting.
Johnson says he has been playing pickup soccer since last summer on the West Side of Manhattan to “feel and learn the game.” He said he’s been playing right-center back “because I’m not in shape to be a midfielder.”
There are a couple areas for concern, though. Pacing could be a problem. Soccer is unlike most American sports. It is fluid and subtle. It does not have the same intricate rules or stoppages. The announcer should be a more delicate presence. Gus can be great. He’s our first choice for the last minute of an NCAA tournament game. He’s anything but delicate. Gus’ critics argue he’s loud, brash and too heavy-handed for American football. Can he tone it down enough to let a soccer game breathe? This is a sport where Martin Tyler, a man who can reach catatonia during a live broadcast, is considered the gold standard.
We’re somewhat anxious what this move signals on a broader scale. Fox has made tone deaf overtures in the past to Americanize soccer for their perception of a broader audience (see: Michael Strahan football/futball segments and 15-minute Shakira segments before the Champions League final). Trying to convert one of your loudest NFL announcers into your soccer guy to provide a familiar American voice could skew in that direction. It’s one step away from Soccer Cletus and placing mics on the field to capture every grunt.
Here’s hoping he gets paired with Ray Hudson, just for the sheer insanity of it all.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]