These days, Linares is living one of his childhood dreams, as a sports anchor and reporter for Telemundo and NBC Washington, and as the Spanish-language play-by-play voice for D.C. United TV broadcasts on TeleXitos. He has loftier goals, including calling a World Cup game in person and becoming the best bilingual reporter in the country, but the 36-year-old is proud of what he already has accomplished 2,500 miles from home.
“I’ve come so far that sometimes I look back and can’t believe it,” Linares, who left his native California for D.C. almost nine years ago, said during a recent interview.
Linares is the oldest of seven siblings, raised by a single mother who fled El Salvador during the civil war in the early 1980s and started a family in the area formerly known as South Central L.A. He said he was in middle school the first time he was recruited to join a gang, spent part of his high school years homeless and credited three things with saving him: God, his mother and soccer.
“Everywhere I went, I had a soccer ball,” Linares said. “People told me, ‘Hey, let’s go hang out,’ and I’d say, ‘No, I got to go practice.’ ”
Linares played soccer through high school and enrolled at California State University Northridge, determined to become the next great sportscaster. After graduating with a degree in Central American studies and journalism in 2008, Linares landed a job as a production assistant at Fox Sports and Fox Soccer Channel. When it didn’t lead to a long-term position, he began freelancing to build his journalism résumé while working for a nonprofit supporting children and adults with developmental disabilities. His big break came in September 2012, when Telemundo 44 offered him a job in D.C. as a sports anchor and reporter.
A few months after moving across the country and spending Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve alone, Linares wondered whether he had made a mistake. He was barely making enough money to cover rent and a car, and he considered quitting and heading home to Southern California.
Around that time, Lori Montenegro, then a national correspondent for Telemundo, met Linares during a visit to the Spanish-language network’s Arlington office. She was already familiar with his work and advised him to relax and let his personality shine through on the air.
“I told him: ‘You’ve been blessed. Are you just going to throw the blessing away, or are you going to trust God to make a way?’ ” said Montenegro, now the bureau chief for Telemundo’s D.C. office. “I was glad to see him stand his ground.”
“From that point on, I thought about things differently,” Linares said. “I have to show the people behind me that you can do it. There’s a lot of sacrifice, it’s a lot of work, but there’s something to be learned here. I’m going to make this happen.”
Linares began to thrive in his new position. A few years later, when NBCUniversal assumed operational control of Telemundo DC, Linares told his boss that he wanted to become a bilingual broadcaster in the mold of Adrian Garcia Marquez, a play-by-play announcer who calls games in English and Spanish. In 2018, when NBC 4 sports anchor Sherree Burruss took time off to get married during the Capitals’ appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, the station sent Linares to Capital One Arena to handle reports for both Telemundo and NBC Washington. He’s now a regular contributor to both stations.
“They’ve allowed me to shine in a different platform, and it’s given me a lot more eyes than I had before,” Linares said.
Linares had play-by-play experience before being tapped to call the action for D.C. United games this season. From 2014 to 2017, he was the Spanish-language voice of United on CBS Radio El Zol 107.9’s HD2 station. He also has done Spanish-language play-by-play for the Washington Football Team’s radio broadcasts for the past three years.
As part of this year’s D.C. United TV coverage, Linares has been reunited with Dave Johnson, whom he first met as a production assistant at Fox Soccer Channel. Linares co-hosts the pregame show in English on NBC Sports Washington with Johnson, analyst Devon McTavish and sideline reporter Claudia Pagán before calling the game solo and in Spanish on TeleXitos.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of his because I appreciate his work ethic, his drive,” Johnson, who is also the Wizards’ longtime radio play-by-play voice, said of Linares. “I consider myself a hard worker with my schedule, with the things I’m involved in, and I feel a kindred spirit with him. He’s working hard.”
Linares got his drive from his mother, Sandra Vásquez, who at 59 runs a small homemade food vending business in the San Fernando Valley. When Linares was a kid, Vásquez was the glue that held the family together as external factors threatened to tear it apart. In September 2019, Linares returned to the house in Los Angeles in which he grew up and knocked on the door. He chatted with the owner, who had lived there since shortly after Linares’s family was evicted before his junior year of high school.
“It was very emotional for me,” Linares said. “It taught me that life goes on. You can’t stay stuck in one moment. … It was an opportunity to close that chapter and move on and write a different story after that. It was a reminder of where I came from.”
This year, Linares was nominated for a Capital Emmy Award for a Telemundo story he did about his mom’s journey to the United States. For the past seven years, he has been interviewing family members and researching the civil war in El Salvador for a book about his family that’s slated to be published in September. The purpose of writing the book, Linares said, is to empower others, including his siblings, to take chances in life and keep going.
Meanwhile, Linares is feeling more and more comfortable in the broadcast booth every game and trusts that everything will work out for the best if he continues to work hard.
“If this is the peak, the zenith of my career, then it’s over,” Linares said, invoking the wisdom of former U.S. women’s national soccer team coach Jill Ellis. “It’s which mountain is next to climb. … My childhood dream is to call a World Cup game in the country of the World Cup, not from a studio. I still need to do that. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen when it’s supposed to. Everything that I’m doing now is preparing me for that moment.”
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