Pros and Cons of Gus Johnson’s Debut as FOX Soccer’s Commentator for Real Madrid-Man United

The main thrust of my articles last week about FOX’s appointment of Gus Johnson was whether FOX made the correct decision or not to hire the best talent available. I said that I would give Johnson a chance in his debut game on FOX Soccer. So, how did he do?

Here are the pros and cons of Gus Johnson’s debut appearance on FOX Soccer:

PROS

1. Lots of energy and excitement in his voice.

2. Excellent calls on the opening goal by Danny Welback, and the wonderful kick-save by David De Gea. Plus, Johnson’s excitement at Robin van Persie’s shot later in the game that was saved off the line.

3. Very listenable.

4. He’s an American commentating on a US soccer network.

5. Did well with identifying players.

6. Gus Johnson made a concerted effort to let the game do the talking at times, instead of talking incessantly.

CONS

1. Disliked his several references to “Man U” during his commentary, which is very insulting to Manchester United supporters. To be fair, Mario Melchiot was also guilty of saying the same thing.

2. Made the mistake of calling a free kick a corner in the first half (see above photo) when Xabi Alonso had the ball.

3. Way too much talking during the game regarding trivial matters or player facts or figures that distracted and distanced the viewer from the game we’re watching. A good example of this was Ronaldo’s sensational headed goal. Instead of commentating on the build-up to the goal, Johnson was talking about Ozil’s recent performance for Germany in a friendly which was cut short just as Ronaldo’s head met the ball in mid-air.

To be fair, there were lots of talking by Tyler about off the pitch matters too that didn’t concentrate on the game, but he chose to say them during lulls or stoppages in the game, not during key moments.

4. Dislike his overuse of “fire.” I’m not a big fan of catchphrases. Tyler doesn’t have one. It’s cheap and cliched.

5. Called Ryan Giggs “one of the greatest footballers in English history.” He’s Welsh.

6. Not a big fan of his fascination with the six yard box in his commentary. “Curls it into the six,” and “…in the six” are just two examples. The six yard box hasn’t got this much love from a commentator since forever.

7. Several times during the game, he got his descriptions mixed up. When it was a pass, he described it as a cross. When it was a cross, it was a pass.

8. He’s still too reliant, at times, on his radio commentating tendencies where he seems unable to stop describing everything that’s happening on the pitch even though we, the viewer, can see the same thing unfolding before our eyes (for example, “Alonso passes the center circle,” “Ramos on the right wing,” etc.).

9. I could have done without Johnson letting us know the corner count every single time a corner was taken.

Despite a shaky start with Johnson and Barton talking too much about the off-the-field matters instead of concentrating on commentating the game, Johnson grew into game and obviously showed that he did his homework. Coupled with a more experienced co-commentator, Johnson has the potential to improve and to make his mark on the game with an uniquely American voice.

Whether you like Johnson or not depends partly on your preference for how a commentator calls a game. Should it be over enthusiastic excitement or something more understated? Such is the difference between Gus Johnson and Martin Tyler. Do you want your commentator to add more excitement into a shot that goes harmlessly wide, or would you prefer him to sound more excited that need be to raise your blood pressure? Vice-versa, with Tyler, do you want a spectacular goal to be given the relative silence and room to breathe or would you prefer over-the-top hysteria?

We’ve been there before with Tyler during the 2010 World Cup where Ian Darke ended up getting more of the bigger calls near the end of the tournament because Tyler’s style was too understated.

But this isn’t Martin Tyler versus Gus Johnson. It’s a decision by FOX to field a self-acclaimed soccer novice as its lead commentator from now through to the FIFA World Cup in 2018. On a Champions League match like this one, Johnson didn’t seem so out of place. Having him commentate a Premier League match is another matter entirely. Luckily for viewers in the United States, EPL Talk exclusively revealed this week that we believe NBC Sports is planning on using UK native commentators.

Despite my reservations about Johnson last week and some of the mistakes he made today, he showed enough promise to show that FOX Soccer may be on to something. It’s a different style than what we’re used, and he will hopefully improve over time. He’s never going to be as good as Martin Tyler or other top British commentators, but it’s FOX’s decision and it’s one that they obviously believe in. Gus Johnson is not everyone’s cup of tea, just as Martin Tyler is not everyone’s cup of coffee.

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