We hardly knew him, in truth. Gus Johnson was a part of this “soccer in America” thing for all of 19 months, during which he graced, what, maybe 20 games in total? He was criticized before, during, and after almost every one, including on this here blog. And now Johnson and Fox have agreed that this wasn’t going to work out—not because of criticism, they insist—because Gus isn’t able to give his full attention to the game with his basketball and football obligations. Johnson may well continue to call soccer for Fox, but he won’t be their lead announcer at either the Women’s World Cup next summer or the Men’s World Cup in 2018.
I happen to believe that this decision is for the best, though the family circumstances that led to Johnson’s decision are unfortunate. But the question mark of Gus Johnson as a soccer announcer is now replaced by the question mark of an unknown commentator. Someone—more than one someone, in truth—will have to replace him.
The options are plentiful. Richard Deitsch’s story about Johnson mentions that Fox has a relationship with Martin Tyler. In addition to being the voice of FIFA video games, Tyler was ESPN’s lead announcer for the 2010 World Cup. I don’t think anyone would complain too loudly if he headed Fox’s commentary in 2018, but the same could be said of commentators like Ian Darke, or Peter Drury, or Jon Champion.
From afar, I get the impression that Fox wants an American voice (or more than one) on its soccer coverage. That was part of the idea behind Johnson’s appointment. As I’ve said before, the problem with Gus Johnson wasn’t that he’s American, but that he wasn’t familiar with the game. In its stable, Fox already has JP Dellacamera and John Strong, entirely capable American announcers. They may be on a second tier compared to the voices above, they would provide the sort of imprint I think Fox wants to have.
But Fox doesn’t just jump into soccer coverage with the World Cup Final in four years. Between now and then, there’s a Women’s World Cup, weekly MLS coverage, Champions Leagues, two Gold Cups, a Confederations Cup, the Bundesliga, and possibly Copa America in 2016. They need announcers for all of this: A-teams, B-teams, C-teams, so on. But they also need studio personalities, in addition to the tired twosome of Warren Barton and Eric Wynalda. NBC and ESPN have raised the bar for coverage in the relatively short time since Fox Soccer dominated the landscape. Piers Morgan will not cut it anymore.
There is a lot of work to be done at Fox. And it needs to be done sooner rather than later. It starts in earnest next March, and I’d be surprised if Dellacamera or Strong weren’t calling the first MLS game on Fox Sports 1.