Yesterday Fox announced a move that was long considered a formality – they locked up John Strong to be their lead voice for the network’s MLS coverage.  Strong is the former voice of the Portland Timbers and had been the lead play by play announcer for NBCSN’s coverage of the league.  In that timespan, he also had done freelance work for Fox on various tournaments like the Europa League.  However, now Strong is exclusively a Fox soccer announcer.

Here’s the Fox announcement:

FOX Sports has acquired Strong’s exclusive services to call play-by play for its coverage of Major League Soccer (MLS), FIFA Women’s World Cup, international soccer events and more it was announced today by Executive Vice President, Production, John Entz. Strong coming aboard comes after FOX Sports recently announced that Alexi Lalas and Brad Friedel had been added to provide soccer analysis.

“John has quickly won the heart of the nation’s soccer fans and is accepted as one of the top American voices calling the game today,” said Entz.  “Locking John up exclusively is another demonstration of FOX Sports’ commitment to present soccer in a way that’s embraced by the game’s passionate fan base as we take on new properties like MLS and FIFA Women’s World Cup this year.”

No stranger to FOX Sports, Strong has regularly contributed to its coverage the UEFA Europa League, CONCACAF Champions League and CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying.  He called the 2013 UEFA Europa League Final and hosted studio coverage for FOX Sports’ coverage of the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup and the whip-around UEFA Champions League show, MultiMatch 90.  Most recently, Strong served as lead play-by-play announcer for MLS and called Barclays Premier League matches for NBC Sports.   

“I’ve watched FOX Sports build momentum for its soccer coverage both through new properties like the men’s and women’s World Cup, MLS and Bundesliga, as well as with the addition of talented, well-respected professionals like Alexi and Brad,” offered Strong.  “I’m honored to join that effort and call FOX Sports my exclusive professional home.”

Strong is well-regarded around American soccer circles and at just 29 is widely considered as one of the top American soccer voices working today.  The support on Twitter for the signing was nearly unanimous amongst the US soccer media.

At this point the major question that has to be asked is whether or not Strong will be the person to fill Gus Johnson’s shoes as not just the lead MLS announcer (which Johnson probably wasn’t going to be) but the face of Fox’s soccer coverage.  Will Strong be sent over to Europe to call Champions League games?  Will he be the lead announcer at the Women’s World Cup this summer?  What about the 2018 World Cup as well?

It’s an interesting dynamic at Fox Soccer given the network initially passed over Strong, and other respected and talented American soccer announcers, in the hopes of transforming Gus Johnson into their #1 voice for the beautiful game.  That experiment failed and Johnson has left the sport.  Strong isn’t the famous personality that Johnson is and you’re not going to hear his voice in a video game anytime soon.  But he’s respected among his peers and widely regarded among US soccer fans.  Is that enough for a network that wants to smack you in the face with its attitude and big personalities?  Never forget this is the same network that brought in Piers Morgan to be a soccer analyst.

Strong’s hire, and his potential role as Fox’s #1 soccer announcer, doesn’t fit what has been the network’s modus operandi.  And maybe that’s the truest sign that Fox is now changing course with their soccer coverage in the After Gus Era.

Fox’s top commitment in taking the World Cup torch from ESPN is focusing on American voices covering the sport.  While we may see Fox bring in a couple British voices for major events like the World Cup, it’d be a major surprise if they go to the lengths ESPN has in past years with the dominant UK flavor to their telecasts.  Strong is a strong favorite to lead the coverage at this year’s Women’s World Cup.  If that is well received, perhaps the network won’t feel pressed to bring in the likes of Martin Tyler or Ian Darke for Russia 2018.

Fox has expressed a desire to have American soccer announcers lead their coverage as the next step in the sport’s evolution in this country.  Now they might finally have the American soccer announcer to do it.

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