Today, we heard Gus Johnson commentate his second soccer game for FOX Soccer, where he was the announcer for the UEFA Champions League match between Arsenal and Bayern Munich. His performance as a commentator at the Emirates Stadium tonight showed that he was a considerable amount of work ahead of him if he wants to improve.
The main issue with Johnson’s commentating today was his inability to correctly read the game in key moments. Examples include Johnson shouting “What a save!” when Manuel Neuer stopped an Olivier Giroud shot that was aimed point-blank at the German goalkeeper. Plus, in the first half, Bayern Munich won a free kick on the edge of the area, Johnson didn’t call it. Either he didn’t see the referee signaling for a free kick, or didn’t understand the call that the ref made. Instead his commentary was “A nice slide… dangerous for Arsenal.” His inability to distinguish between a foul and a “nice slide” is worrying. Plus, the TV viewer at home shouldn’t be the one figuring out it’s a free kick before the commentator does.
Other flubs included repeatedly mispronouncing Bacary Sagna’s name in the first half, as well as misreading a Bayern Munich corner as an Arsenal goal kick, and lulling us to sleep with his monotone commentating during quieter moments of the game.
Thankfully co-commentator Ray Clemence papered over many of the cracks, doing a far better job alongside Johnson than Warren Barton did last week. Clemence’s insights into the game were timely and astute, often enhancing our experience of watching this exciting match. His chemistry with Johnson was also decent. Clemence was able to defuse Johnson’s over-exuberance at times. When Johnson made the “What a save!” call, Clemence explained that “To be fair to Neuer, he doesn’t know a lot about it. If that’s half a yard either side of him, it’s in the back of the net.”
While Johnson’s performance was far from catastrophic, today revealed a little more regarding how much of a gulf there is between what he knows compared to the knowledge level of an average soccer commentator. I can live with Johnson calling anything coming near the goal as “on fire” and his annoying “In the six!” calls, but the bottom line is that he’s not saying anything. He’s not adding anything to these games other than a good voice, an American accent and tons of energy. Take those three things away and there’s nothing.