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Pierce: Oh, no! Fox has the World Cup four years from now
Sports on TV » Network will telecast World Cup in 4 years; let’s hope they improve by then.

By Scott D. Pierce

| Tribune Columnist

First Published May 27 2014 12:28 pm • Last Updated May 29 2014 09:20 am

It’s still four years away, but the prospect of Fox Sports telecasting the 2018 World Cup is sort of horrifying.

That’s because Fox Sports’ lead soccer announcers, Gus Johnson and Eric Wynalda, are dreadful.

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Over the past couple of weeks, their performance in both the FA Cup final and the UEFA Champions League final was terrible. Johnson’s major contribution was to scream when goals were scored. Wynalda seemed shockingly disinterested and disengaged, which resulted in numerous occasions when his analysis didn’t have anything to do with what was actually happening.

If you’re talking about a foul and it was an offside call, you’re not doing anybody — including yourself — any favors.

Wynalda is also big on make a lot of predictions — throwing them against the wall, hoping something sticks and then taking a bow when, like a broken clock, he’s occasionally correct. That came back to bite him during the FA Cup final when he went on about how Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey should be subbed out of the game ... just before Ramsey scored the winning goal.

And if you’re not excited about big events like the FA Cup and the Champions League final, you really shouldn’t be in the booth.

Fox Sports is apparently trying to differentiate itself from ESPN, which holds the rights to the 2014 World Cup. But that means Fox is refusing to learn the lesson ESPN learned the hard way.

In 2006, ESPN assigned soccer novice Dave O’Brien as its lead World Cup announcer, operating under the assumption that (a) Americans would rather hear an American accent, and (b) Americans are so dumb they needed the basics of the game explained to them. Repeatedly.

In 2010, ESPN corrected that error, turning to a stable of British announcers — Martin Tyler, Adrian Healey, Derek Rae and Ian Darke — giving American viewers the best World Cup coverage they’ve ever had.

This is not, however, about accents. NBC employs Brit Arlo White as its lead EPL play-by-play guy, and he’s mediocre at best.

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White doesn’t understand what a breakaway is. And when he was NBC’s lead MLS play-by-play man, it was hard not to question how much he prepares for games given that he pronounced Javier Morales’ first name without an "R," apparently thinking the Argentine midfielder is French. And those are just a couple of examples.

After spending a big chunk of the last two Saturdays watching Johnson and Wynalda work Arsenal’s win over Hull City and Real Madrid’s win over Atletico Madrid, one thought kept rolling through my head:

Real Salt Lake’s broadcast duo of Bill Riley and Brian Dunseth are better than these guys. And neither of them have British accents, if you haven’t noticed.

Maybe by 2018, Johnson will improve. He ought to be calling every game he can — even if it’s MLS games on NBC that he’s doing just for practice.

And maybe Wynalda will show some interest in the World Cup.

There’s cause for concern long before the 2018 World Cup. Fox will resume telecasting MLS games in 2015.

And if Johnson and Wynalda are Fox’s "A" team, I’m really worried about the "B" and "C" teams.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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