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Gus Johnson's usual itinerary this time of year was filled with stops at Big Ten basketball hotbeds. Not anymore. In an audacious and polarizing move, Fox Sports announced earlier this month that it was grooming the 45-year-old broadcaster as its lead soccer voice—even though he had never called a match until last spring. Johnson will do play-by-play for the 2018 World Cup in Russia for the network, as well as the '15 Women's World Cup in Canada. Last week, after he announced his first international game, a Champions League round-of-16 draw between Real Madrid and Manchester United, SI asked Johnson about his new pursuit.
SI: Why did you want this assignment?
JOHNSON: It's an opportunity to grow. I'm being thrown out of my comfort zone and challenged to learn things. I think it's exciting.
SI: Where are you in your soccer education?
JOHNSON: I'm a novice. It's a lot of information, so dense and so many different teams with players from all over the world. The key for me—and not to be cliché—is literally to take it one match at a time, learn everything I can about that one particular match and have my knowledge grow from that point.
SI: How would you evaluate your work for the Real Madrid--Manchester United game?
JOHNSON: It's a process, and it's not a process that will take three games. It's a process where I need 50 games. I will make mistakes, and that happens with every broadcaster, both American and English. But I got a lot of positive feedback. I'm looking to get a little bit better every time I go out.
SI: Were you recognized in Madrid?
JOHNSON: Not one single person, which was great. It let me focus on what I needed to do.
SI: Do you have a message for world soccer fans watching you?