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Samfield Road: An American Band

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Samfield Road: An American Band

D Dipasupil

It's taken me too long to get to this, because I've wanted to talk about it for a while. But with the frantic and panic-inducing start (for some) that Liverpool have had, other matters took precedence.

Weeks, I guess now months, ago, Fox announced that Gus Johnson would be leaving their soccer coverage. It was positioned as his decision, and maybe it was, but I tend to believe it was mutual at least. Johnson and Fox came in for heavy criticism for his work, and soccer fans in this country can be an ornery bunch when they don't get something they deem worthy of their fandom.

This is one of those things where I understood both sides. When Fox announced they were doing this experiment, I'll admit I was intrigued instead of angry. The first reason, despite how self-celebratory he had become, is that Johnson had the pacing for soccer. It's not a game where you need constant description. It's a series of small moments building up to big ones, and Johnson in his coverage of other sports really got that. He knew where the high notes were, though he started playing up to them and completely ignoring the lower notes which give context once he became famous for his excitement. That's certainly preferable to the coverage of NBC's Arlo White, who just never shuts up. In most sports, and especially soccer, a television play-by-play man's job is basically to say last names. This is why Martin Tyler is considered the best, because he doesn't give up anything more than we can already see. He colors within the lines. And generally, when the ball is hitting the back of the net. Tyler is silent unless it's something truly special (all of us can hear "GERRARRRRRRD!!! in our minds any time we want).

Second, at some point the sport does need an American voice. I know this sounds stupid and jingoistic, and I'm sure JP Dellacamera would probably like to raise his hand in objection. But for the sport to become our own, or at least a version of it, there has to be a narrator. Baseball? Vin Scully. Football? Al Michaels or Howard Cosell. Hockey? Doc Emerick. Basketball? Well, I guess that doesn't really have one any more. But you get the point.

Part of the problem is that we still struggle on our actual terms. I'm American, but I still want to call the field "a pitch." My soccer cleats "boots." Sideline is the touchline. Because we learned the game watching the English call it, this is how we identify these things. We're still jarred when we hear these things referred to in the American terms, but they're not necessarily wrong. And when American announcers are using the British terms, that doesn't sound right either. What young American announcer would stand a chance when we don't even know what vernacular he should use?

I really supported the idea of Johnson, and didn't know when it started that he would be pretty lazy in learning the game and the players and everything else. It sounded so forced for so long, and he certainly wasn't helped by being paired with analysts who didn't belong in the booth instead of the studio. I like Eric Wynalda behind a desk, but not with a headset on. The alternatives weren't much better.

I guess in the end it's just appearances. Something doesn't feel right that for our biggest national team games or even for the bigger MLS games, we have to import an announcer. That we haven't come far enough as a soccer nation to produce our own. The game has had a foothold here for a good 20 years. It really should be time.

I don't know that the game needs someone truly colorful, because Lord knows what I think of Ray Hudson and his completely bullshit reputation. That would help draw attention for sure, and maybe an informed version of Gus is really all we need. But soccer isn't a sport built for colorful announcers, which is why Hudson sounds so torturous to me. The crescendo is easy for all to see, and if the crowd is mic'd correctly (a problem on BeIn which gives Hudson his platform to assault my ears) the game basically tells its own story. An announcer merely needs to spice it. I think in some ways Johnson understood that, but didn't have everything else to go with it.

The search goes on, I guess.