A short while ago, the first leg of Manchester United and Real Madrid’s Round of 16 Champions League matchup ended in a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabéu. Gus Johnson, whom FOX sports is grooming to become the voice of the World Cup in 2018, called the match. It was his first premiere showcase.
The match itself was full of plenty of drama: Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck put the visitors on top 1-0 with a corner kick header in the 20th minute, only to have Cristiano Ronaldo equalize with a header of his own 10 minutes later. Johnson’s goal calls didn’t quite reach the levels of his “Batista with the caaatttcchhh!!!!!!” shrieky delight, but they sufficed – the pertinent information was delivered in a timely manner, the rapid voice inflection mostly captured the gravity of the moment, and Johnson knew enough to get the hell out of the way afterwards with a lengthy pause. His other scoring chance calls were equally solid, and you can see (and here) all of them below:
Of bigger concern, however, was how Johnson would handle the intermediary – the stretches of inconsequential passing, in which thoughtful analysis and intricate dissection of tactical maneuvers serve as gap-fillers. For the most part, Johnson’s color man, Warren Barton, carried that aspect of the broadcast, while Johnson fumbled with follow up questions and secondary commentary. Of course, that will only improve with time. A few San Jose Earthquake games does not a perfect announcer make.
But back to those stretches of insignificant action: Johnson seemed rather fearful of overpowering the broadcast. Awful Announcing more generously termed it as “understated,” – which, in that it wasn’t the alternative, was a good thing – but it felt more like deadpanning. Not that we’re asking Gus for emotional explosions for their own sake – just that diplomatic and incisive play-by-play was wholly lacking. Of course this can be chalked up to his unfamiliarity with the game, and with time we can expect it to improve. But as for today, we were left with minute-long segments in which Johnson did nothing but call out the name of the player with the ball in a context-less vacuum:
At the end of the video, Manchester United’s keeper David de Gea makes a spectacular save. Johnson’s immediate and visceral response was exactly the type of Gus Johnson that’s built for soccer’s biggest moments. And in this sense, he deserves credit. Not to mention that as the game’s waning moments drew near, the heightened anticipation of scoring chances bled through in Johnson’s voice. Again, well done.
So basically what we’re left with is the Gus Johnson we expected – mostly solid in the game’s most crucial moments, otherwise cautiously ghostly in the other 90 percent of the match. But with time, he will get better; the man does have 5 years.