Fox moving Gus Johnson to soccer coverage was going to be a wild success or a disaster. After his first high-profile match, we would err toward the former. There were some imperfections, but, all told, it was a promising debut.
The most important thing: Gus’ spasmodic delivery works. His ability to go from 0-90 on a dime is tailor-made for soccer. It enhances the spectacle, rather than detracting from it. He took a while to get in rhythm (understandably), but he was professional and well researched. He was measured during the quiet periods. He resisted the worrisome American tendency to “over-talk” and fill gaps with inane blather.
He had kinks, though those should smooth over with time. Johnson needs a more authoritative handle on the rules, particularly the offside rule. He needs the command to jump in during a moment of controversy and explain what happened. Too often those were followed by silence or confusion. Part of that will come with time. Part of that could be helped by having a stronger, more seasoned commentating partner than Warren Barton.
Giving him a breakdown of how away goals work in Champions League knockout play would also be helpful. Really quibbling, we might suggest he dispense with using stats like “shots on target” and number of corners which are tangential to understanding a fluid sport.
Gus Johnson’s effort would not have drawn abnormal ire during a World Cup. Having that as a baseline from which to build the next five years before 2018 is encouraging. If ESPN’s goal in 2010 was to expand the soccer base, Fox’s presumed goal in 2018 should be to make soccer a mainstream, “American” product. Early returns suggest deploying Johnson in a well-planned manner may prove an excellent strategy to do it.