Gus Johnson has called a couple of big time soccer games. He has a few Champion's League matches and some Premier League games under his belt. And guess what? The soccer world has not imploded, yet.
You have to admire the chutzpah of Fox Sports. The network that came up with the idea of putting a light on a hockey puck in order to make it easier for television viewers to follow outdid themselves this time. When Fox Sports announced that Gus Johnson was going to be the lead broadcaster for their World Cup 2018 and 2022 telecasts, the outcry and vitriol was immense.
My first thought was to agree with them. What in the world does Mr. Excitable know about soccer? That's like embedding ITV Sport's Andy Townsend into the war zone that is Alabama-Auburn college football. He wouldn't know what hit him.
There was a lot of skepticism about this. It's very easy to criticize, since Gus Johnson has no real track record with the sport. The voice of Madden NFL 12 has been a professional broadcaster since 1991, having begun his career at ESPN. He has handled play-by-play duties for everyone from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Knicks. College basketball, American football, and hockey have all been given the Gus Johnson treatment, for better or worse.
On the mic, Johnson is dripping in both emotion and hyperbole. Although no one could ever say that he doesn't know what he was talking about, what truly sets him apart is the passion that he brings to broadcasting. And let's not forget that most foreign language soccer broadcasts (not you, England) are a littered with cries and funny hyperbole, a fast and furious pace, and genuine sentiment. Here's an announcer breaking into the song "Eye of the Tiger" after a goal (I kid you not).
Gus Johnson calling the World Cup may be such a radical idea that it just might work. Let's recall some past U.S. soccer broadcasts, or better yet, let's try to forget them. It was an incessant drone that played into every non-soccer fan's rants about how boring the sport was. Yeah, if you hear it that way, I may have to agree with you.
It's no accident that the dulcet tones of Ian Darke and Phil Schoen (of ESPN and BeIn Sport, respectively) now accompany the play on the soccer pitch in the U.S.
Schoen in particular makes a great pair with the "bard of Gateshead, England" Ray Hudson. Just when you think they can't possibly make up another juicy analogy for Leo Messi's on-pitch exploits, these two collaborate on another gem.
So far, Johnson has been surprisingly subdued in the announcer's booth. He has made mistakes, but hopefully with more experience that will lessen and his passion for sport will come through.
Only a network as crazy as Fox would attempt something so audacious, but the sportscaster will hopefully be prepared by then. Johnson has shown that so far in his career. He has been doing radio broadcasts for the MLS' San Jose Earthquakes and has five years before the World Cup.
A truly professional sportscaster prepares for the occasion. I wouldn't mind hearing Marv Albert call a contentious Rangers vs. Celtic Scottish Premier League match because I know he would only do it if he were prepared enough to tackle it. Then again, Marv Albert could call the Westminster Dog Show and I would be listening (Knicks fans miss you, Marv. Come home soon.)
The United States we will not only continue to export more quality players but broadcasters as well. The first North American broadcaster to ply his trade outside our borders is probably in college right now. Gus Johnson will either be a role model or a cautionary tale.