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Grading Gus Johnson's Call of the Real Madrid-Manchester United UCL Match

Adam HirshfieldFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2013

Grading Gus Johnson's Call of the Real Madrid-Manchester United UCL Match

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    Gus Johnson is a college basketball and football announcer. There's no denying that.

    But with FOX running the show for the 2018 World Cup, the network has called on Johnson to be its soccer play-by-play man.

    He got his first go-round in the booth for Real Madrid and Manchester United's highly anticipated Champions League bout on Wednesday.

    And while, as a co-worker stated, "He's clearly not a natural at this," Johnson was far from the disaster many anticipated.

    Time to break down ole Gus' debut on FOX Soccer.

Fluidity/Rhythm

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    Despite some early butterflies, Johnson worked very well with color man Warren Barton.

    While some play-by-play guys get too involved in breaking down the action on the field, court or pitch, Johnson did his job and let the far more experienced Barton tackle the X's and O's.

    Gus went a bit overboard early on in detailing every pass that was made during long possessions, but he calmed down as the game went on.

    On the negative side, though, there were specific calls during which he was very unsure and awkward. He seemed totally absent on several occasions—exciting chances on goal—that demanded more from an announcer.

    Grade: B- ("Buckets!")

Knowledge

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    Gus clearly did his homework.

    It was obvious that he had fastidiously studied the names of the players and was pretty natural in describing the conservative, early getting-to-know-you passing.  

    Positives

    —He knew the value of away goals, referring to Danny Welbeck's 20th-minute tally as "crucial...for Manchester United." 

     —After Welbeck's goal, he cited that "Manchester United is undefeated in 17 games in which Welbeck has scored." Good knowledge!

    —He had the "37th-minute" thing down, which can be confusing for newbies when the clock reads 36:47.

    —Some may differ on this issue, but for my money, he did an excellent job of mixing off-field stories in with his play-by-play. Particularly of interest was his brief discussion of Sir Alex Ferguson touting Welbeck's abilities despite his irregular playing time for United. It was good perspective that really added to the match experience.

    —Following David De Gea's brilliant save on Fabio Coentrao in the 61st minute, Johnson posited that "De Gea has been stellar in his positioning tonight." ("PUUUURE!")

    Negatives

    —I could be wrong, but I think he called Coentrao a German international after the Real Madrid midfielder hit the post in the fifth minute. He is Portuguese.

    —He messed up in calling Rafael's first-half caution the first yellow of the match. It was the second.

    —When Ryan Giggs came on, he mentioned something about him being one of the most experienced English players in the game right now. Giggs is Welsh. ("HERE COMES THE PAIN!")

    Grade: B+ ("Rise and FIRE...")

Pronunciation

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    Generally, Johnson did well in pronouncing the names of the many foreign players on the pitch on Wednesday night.

    He did particularly well with the aforementioned Fabio Coentrao, Angel Di Maria and Nemanja Vidic.

    Buuuuut, he did refer to United's goalscorer as Danny WelBACK. He also seemed to have trouble with Mesut Ozil's name. I do, too, so I can't fault him too much for that.

    Grade: B+ ("The slipper still fits!")

Soccer (Football) Terminology

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    I get that Johnson is an American with limited experience calling the sport. And I get that, at least to a large extent, he's calling the game for a U.S. audience.

    But this is where his lack of experience was most noticeable to me.

    Yes, he referred to the sport as "football" on occasion, which I liked. Good work, that.

    He referred to both Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson as "coaches" rather than "managers." Not a huge issue.

    The bigger faux pas occurred with his regularly referring to the hosts as "Real" rather than Real Madrid, or simply "Madrid," which is far more customary than "Real."

    I know there are mixed feelings on this, too, but he constantly used the term "Man U" to describe the Premier League leaders. Big no-no in my book.

    Grade: D+ ("Heartbreak City!")

Excitement

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    Now we're entering Johnson's wheelhouse. His exciting (or, perhaps, excitable) announcing is his calling card in college hoops.

    And he didn't disappoint at the Bernabeu.

    He was not overly zealous in calling half-chances and less-than-thrilling action, which is something about which critics were worried. Definitely a solid way to get started.

    He also had a solid call on Welbeck's 20th-minute goal. He knew it was a big deal, and his tone made that clear. Afterward, he let Barton take on the analysis—which he nailed—on the Real Madrid defender not being properly placed at the post to defend the corner kick. 

    But all in all, he struggled in the first half.

    His call on Cristiano Ronaldo's goal was way late...like a good five seconds late: "And we have an equalizer in Madrid." Yes, it was the proper usage of the term "equalizer," but fans knew it was a goal well before he made it clear on the air. It was almost as if he wasn't sure it was in or was waiting for the go-ahead from his producer, neither of which is a worthwhile excuse. 

    Gus got much better in the second half, though. He got excited at the right times. He clearly noted good chances from both sides, and he even inserted some Gus Johnsonisms here and there: "DECISIVE!" and "BEAUTIFUL SAVE BY DE GEA!"

    It wasn't perfect by a long shot, but it was a good start.

    Grade: B+ ("WHAT A COMEBACK!")

Final Grades

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    Again, soccer is not Gus Johnson's native sport. But thrust into the spotlight, calling one of the top matches of the year, Johnson held his own.

    Like they often do about referees, they say that the best way to judge the performance of announcers is whether or not you notice them during the game. If you know they're there, they're generally not doing a great job. If they mesh seamlessly with the action on the field, they're crushing it.

    To be fair, I noticed Johnson. But not in a noticeably negative way.

    He did his homework, he knew the teams and he generally did a solid job of keeping viewers involved. He was far from perfect, but his issues were mainly the result of a lack of experience. In other words, he should improve with time and additional training.

    Though I love his college-basketball abilities and trademarks, I was worried that Gus Johnson would ruin this match for me. He did no such thing.

    Overall grade: B ("And BURIES it!")

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