Gus Johnson yesterday made his Fox Soccer play-by-play debut for the net's UEFA Champions League telecast of Manchester United-Real Madrid, and "proved that he was no sideshow," according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Where Johnson was "very good was going from 0 to 60 when something happened in front of the net." But moving forward he must "start making observations on what he sees on the pitch, something he rarely did." He also was "rarely critical of play." The game at times "moved too fast for him, and he was late on the run of play a number of times in the first half." Johnson will "improve with more reps and as he becomes more familiar with broadcasting from international locales." Deitsch graded Johnson's performance as "around a B- or C." Fox Sports co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks said that he texted Johnson after the game, writing, "Strong start. I really appreciated your passion and commitment to this and today it showed." Shanks said, "On March 5 for the return match, I think everyone will see a big improvement" (SI.com, 2/14). In N.Y., Andrew Das wrote Johnson's "best days are ahead." Das gave Johnson a "B-minus." Das: "Not great, not awful. Workmanlike." Johnson was "right to focus on the first rule of announcing: First, do no harm." After a "timid start," Johnson seemed to "hit his stride, rising to meet the play or dialing back his words appropriately." Still, he often went "silent for long stretches at odd moments." Johnson "avoided the brutal gaffes that fans feared, though he did mis-identify players a few times" (NYTIMES.com, 2/13).
CHEERS & JEERS: THE BIG LEAD's Ty Duffy wrote Johnson showed some "imperfections, but, all told, it was a promising debut." The "most important thing: Gus' spasmodic delivery works." His "ability to go from 0-90 on a dime is tailor-made for soccer." Johnson "resisted the worrisome American tendency to 'over-talk' and fill gaps with inane blather." But he "needs a more authoritative handle on the rules, particularly the offside rule" (THEBIGLEAD.com, 2/13). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Matt Yoder wrote Johnson's commentary was "quite understated throughout the ebb and flow of the game." Johnson's call of the game's first goal was "somewhat muted, but as the game went on that trademark excitement appeared more frequently for the big moments." While Johnson "certainly passed his first test, you can tell there's still plenty of room for improvement." Fox "has to be incredibly pleased" with Johnson's debut. He is "never going to win over 100% of soccer fans, but it was an impressive opening statement to the doubters and skeptics" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 2/13).
TWITTER REAX: Johnson's debut was a hot topic on Twitter yesterday, with Sporting News' Brian Straus writing, "Gus Johnson era off to promising start. Measured during play, doesn't add fake, affected accent when pronouncing foreign names. Good start." Grantland's Brian Phillips wrote, "If Gus Johnson did exactly this well calling the World Cup, he would be fine." The Washington Post's Steven Goff wrote of Johnson's call of the game's first goal, "Quality goal call by Gus Johnson. Didn't overdo it. Fears of bombastic reaction alleviated. Well done." SI.com's Avi Creditor: "Initial #Gus thoughts: Enjoyable, professional call. Plenty room to improve, but encouraging debut indeed." ESPN's Max Bretos: "Was going to wish Gus Johnson good luck ahead of his Champions League call. Doesn't need it, called a solid 1st half on his maiden voyage." ESPN FC's Jason Davis: "So Gus is fine you guys. What's the next thing we can get angry about?" SI's Deitsch: "Somewhere in L.A., Fox Sports executives are smiling." Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald: "I think that some of the people who were expecting Gus Johnson to be shouting the whole time haven't watched him since he left CBS." NBCSports.com's Joe Yerdon: "I think you can be critical of Gus Johnson doing soccer solely based on him not having the proper timing down to read plays." SI's Mark Mravic wrote, "Game moving too fast for him, tho. extraneous info as shots fly MT." Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt tweeted, "Gus has clearly been studying his 'Soccer' phrasebook like it's a foreign language. Expect 'Donde esta la biblioteca' any minute now."