MIAMI — With the World Cup approaching, Andres Cantor is on the move on this May day at Telemundo’s new $250 million headquarters hugging the western rim of the city. He has just finished taping a commercial — one in which he had to wear a dress shirt intentionally stained by coffee — and is off to a photo shoot before navigating a coil of hallways for studio rehearsals that could last hours.
Upon climbing a curved stairway to the second-floor newsroom, he is interrupted by a senior vice president.
The men huddle for a moment before Cantor breaks free.
“I think I’m going to interview the Pope,” Cantor says later.
“The Pope. He likes football.”
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Cantor supports Boca Juniors, the celebrated soccer club from his home town, Buenos Aires. The Argentine-born Pope Francis backs San Lorenzo. Both follow the national team.
How divine. The soothing voice of the Catholic Church, a link to God, and the booming TV commentator for a sport with religious-like devotion.
Alas, the interview did not come to fruition, but these are the celestial circles in which the most famous soccer announcer in America runs.
And after a 20-year pause between national TV assignments at the World Cup, Cantor is back in the spotlight with his famously elongated goal call and unbridled passion for the game. He is Telemundo’s lead announcer for Spanish coverage of the game’s four-week festival in Russia, starting June 14.
“It’s awesome I get to do it on TV again,” he said. “It’s like circling back.”
Cantor has worked every World Cup since 1986, first as a print reporter. After three tournaments on-air for Univision — the Spanish rights-holder in the United States for decades — he moved to Telemundo and called four consecutive World Cups for the nationally syndicated radio program he helped launch, Futbol de Primera. Telemundo won the TV rights for 2018 through 2026.
Cantor, 55, has also been a regular since 2004 on Telemundo’s coverage of the Olympics, plus the Women’s World Cup, Premier League and World Cup qualifiers. He has had Olympic assignments on NBC as well, and although Cantor speaks English fluently, it was like listening to Pavarotti sing country and western. Something was amiss.
With Telemundo gaining the Spanish World Cup rights — Fox Sports has the English contract — Cantor has regained a mainstream platform. Given his popularity, network executives believe he will appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers, even if they don’t understand a lick of Spanish — except, of course, that one universal, translingual word that resonates in all soccer-watching homes and carries the raw emotion of the planet’s favorite party.
“Andres has this kind of stature across language,” said Ray Warren, president of Telemundo Deportes. “That is where he is different. He transcends.”
‘Universality in the language’
Fox Sports succeeded ESPN and ABC, which received plaudits every four years for thoughtful and comprehensive coverage. It has assembled a formidable announcing team and, like Telemundo, will show all 64 matches live on multiple channels.
But it does not have a famous play-by-play personality like Cantor, a five-time winner of a Sports Emmy who has lent his voice to “The Simpsons” and the 2008 film “Speed Racer,” as well as to commercials for, among others, Volkswagen, Pepsi and Geico.
During the Super Bowl broadcast this year on NBC — whose parent company, NBCUniversal, owns Telemundo — Cantor starred in a short promo in which he howled “Goooooool!” while a scoring montage ran. He reappeared, dropped the mic and walked off. No other words were spoken. At the moment the ad ran, 103 million were watching.
American soccer does not have many figures who eclipse the game: Mia Hamm and Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Abby Wambach, Bruce Arena and Brandi Chastain. Cantor is among the few to bust out of the soccer bubble.
Had he not been relegated to World Cup radio for years, his mainstream stature might have further swelled.
Cantor’s radio call of Donovan’s last-minute goal against Algeria at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa — one that flipped first-round elimination into group winner — took listeners on an epic, minute-and-a-half thrill ride.
As the U.S. team pushed up field one last time, his voice began to crescendo in conveying American desperation. When the ball squirted free in the penalty area and slid into Donovan’s path for the winning strike, Cantor hit the high notes.
Then three “goooooool” blasts — 10 seconds, 12 seconds, 10 seconds — with minimal oxygen intake in between. If sound could be seen, tears of joy would have been dripping off each inflection.
Calling the World Cup is different from, say, calling a midseason Premier League match between Huddersfield Town and Brighton.
“The world is paralyzed,” he said. “It has a magic like nothing else in sport.”
And so Cantor feels an obligation to capture the magnitude and splendor of soccer’s ultimate struggle.
“It puts a lot of pressure on the broadcaster because, for us, the responsibility is just as big as it is for the players,” he said. “I am at the World Cup. I am calling the games of the World Cup. Every single word that comes out of my mouth will be judged.”
Before social media, he added, people would call or write to ask how come he was more enthusiastic about, say, Uruguay’s goal than Ireland’s?
“I’ve got no idea. But people listen closely. In Spanish, there is one thing you need to understand: We speak to 26 different Spanish nationalities. I have to be respectful to everyone, from the Nicaraguan to the Argentine. There has to be some sort of universality in the language that I use.
“First and foremost, there has to be respect for the game and respect for the audience. The rest is purely how I live the game.”
‘My first team is Argentina, my second team is the U.S.’
Cantor’s soccer journey began in Buenos Aires. Not much of a player, he embraced the sport by watching and listening.
“Growing up,” he said, “radio was the thing.”
He hung on every word of Jose Maria Muñoz, a famed announcer.
When Cantor was a teenager, though, the family moved to Los Angeles, yanking him from deep immersion in the sport in a soccer-crazy land to a country with scant history and interest in it. He graduated from San Marino High School and enrolled at the University of Southern California to study journalism.
His father was a physician who “always wanted me to be a doctor,” Cantor said. “I wasn’t interested.”
Upon graduating, Cantor wrote for an Argentine publication and covered the 1986 World Cup in Mexico before impressing Univision at an announcing audition. His first World Cup as an announcer was in 1990; he called the games from a California studio, not the Italian stadiums.
Four years later, with the tournament staged in the United States, Cantor gained star status. He also featured prominently during coverage of the 1998 tournament in France.
One team that tests his objectivity is Argentina.
“I would be a hypocrite if when Argentina plays I don’t care,” he said. “My Argentine brethren tell me I am hard in my critique of the team because people know I am from Argentina; I analyze too much of their team.”
In 2014, with La Albiceleste playing Germany for the trophy in Rio de Janeiro, “Believe me, I didn’t save my voice even though my country was beaten. For me, I will be very happy inside if they win and very sad if they lose. But I will be as impartial as I am with anyone.”
His other soft spot is for the United States, a country of which he became a naturalized citizen in 1991. The national team’s failure to qualify for this summer’s tournament ended a streak of seven appearances — and broke Cantor’s heart.
“In 1994, I coined the phrase, ‘La seleccion de todos’ — everyone’s national team. We all live here. My first team is Argentina, my second team is the U.S. To this day, I can’t believe they did not make it. As someone who has lived and grown up in U.S. soccer, it hurts not to see them in Russia.”
Fox Sports will feel the ratings pain from the U.S. absence more than Telemundo, which, for language and cultural reasons, will draw fans, first and foremost, of the eight Latin American teams, as well as Spain and Portugal.
Cantor’s decision to leave Univision for rival Telemundo in 2000 gained him a place in the NBCUniversal family but lost him his World Cup TV presence. With Futbol de Primera, the radio network heard on more than 100 affiliates, he kept his ties to the tournament and continued calling matches, starting in 2002 in South Korea and Japan.
Cantor will handle about 16 group matches this summer, all on-site, except one, which he’ll call from the International Broadcast Center in Moscow. In a big country such as Russia, he will require numerous overnight flights to reach the next destination in ample time for pregame preparations.
“It’s the World Cup,” he deadpanned. “I don’t mind.”
Although his first priority this summer is Telemundo (and sister station Universo, which will show eight games), Cantor will handle three matches in the group stage for Futbol de Primera.
A familiar voice will join him: his son, Nico, 24, who will call games and serve as a reporter. He has taken leave from Univision, where he fills various roles, both on-air and behind the scenes, and has worked since January 2017.
This will be Nico Cantor’s third World Cup. In 2010, he traveled to South Africa with family. Four years ago, he was a Futbol de Primera intern, or, as he said they call them in Argentina, “Che, Pibe” — (Hey, Kid).
“I didn’t say anything to him” about entering the broadcast business, Andres said. “He just likes soccer.”
True, Nico says, but “I feel like I had no choice, surrounded by so much soccer, by so much broadcasting. I had other passions. I was in drama. I like drawing. But I’ve always been focused on achieving my goals as a play-by-play announcer, primarily for soccer. This is my path and I’ve been following it.”
In Russia, the son will work for the father, and they seem likely to end up at the same match at least once. That happened last year at the 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup.
“Naturally, I am going to have a little bit of my dad in me,” Nico said. “I realize I am forever going to be the son of Andres Cantor. More people might know me as the son of Andres Cantor than Nico Cantor. So I try to be myself.
“I don’t imitate my dad, but sometimes I will be doing play-by-play, I will think, ‘Oh, that sounded so much like my dad.’ He lets me be me. I can do me. And that’s the best part.”
As for copying his father’s famous goal call: “I try to find my own voice. I have been working my own things. I am still looking.”
Other family members will join them in Russia 10 days into the tournament, including Andres’s 83-year-old father.
“I won’t see them much,” Andres said. “After it ends, I see the photos of all the places they went.”
One thing that has changed since the last World Cup is Cantor’s weight. Through a disciplined exercise regimen, which he has chronicled on social media, he has dropped 54 pounds (to 230) and nine sizes on his waist.
He calls his spin instructor “Messi on wheels.”
“Hey, this is my chance to change my life around,” he remembered telling himself after returning from the 2016 Olympics in London. “It’s now or never.”
With less heft, will the bellowing big man be no more, the goal call suddenly as fit and trim as his blazer size?
“Technically,” he said, smiling, “I have more air capacity in my lungs to go longer.”
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