Nico Cantor on proudly following in his father's footsteps, growing up Spanglish, and 'La Seleccion de Todos'

Nico Cantor is the son of American broadcasting legend Andres Cantor, the latest recipient of the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame’s Colin Jose Media Award. Nico checked in from London after hosting Wednesday’s worth of UEFA Champions League games on CBS’s ‘The Golazo! Show.’ Born and raised in Miami, Nico first broadcasted soccer when he was 15 years old. He's now 27 and with a flourishing career in soccer media, Nico reflects on his and Andres’ careers and their relationship in the buildup to the National Soccer Hall of Fame awards ceremony on Saturday in Frisco, Texas.

SOCCER AMERICA: There's a lot of talk about the success of the CBS Golazo! Show, which you host. How has it been acclimating to the new whip-around production style that's pretty new to soccer broadcasting?

NICO CANTOR: Working in English is fairly new to me. When I switched over to CBS it was the first time I was working properly in English-language TV, but I had done a similar show at Univision, so I had an idea for what it was like.

SA: What are some of the differences working in English-language television?

NICO CANTOR: I'm slowly learning — I'm getting reps in English and I see where I perhaps stumble or where I don't. I will present things differently to a Spanish-language audience that might have a certain knowledge of stuff we're talking about vs. an English-language audience that might not know. And vice-versa.

You have to cater to your audience but at the same time, I can't ignore the fact that I'm Latino and I like representing that on air so if something happens to a Latino player I gotta give it a shoutout.

A lot of people will ask me all the time: what language do you speak better? And it's like, there's certain things I can say better in English and things that I can say better in Spanish, so Spanglish is the right answer.

SA: Where did you grow up and what was your language at home?

NICO CANTOR: I was born and raised in Miami. At home we spoke Spanish most of the time. My mom is like the best Spanglish speaker ever. At the dinner table, my parents will talk to me and my sister in Spanish, we'll respond back in Spanish, but I speak in English with my sister.

SA: Your dad’s famous ‘Gooool’ exclamation is an American — maybe worldwide — soccer household treasure. Do you remember him doing it in front of the TV at home growing up before it was famous?

NICO CANTOR: Good question. He's a very passionate guy. He has a very loud voice, it's very funny. When my dad is talking on the phone in the house — he projects so well — me and my sister make fun of him a lot.

But he's very passionate, watching soccer games with him, [the 'goal' call] is obviously not as long, but it's definitely as intense and as loud. Watching Boca games with my dad — I think I'm a little bit different, my natural fanatic goal call is a little more aggressive, has a lot of punching in the air, and it's really long.

I have a whole episode, where I'm punching in the air, yelling, yeah! come on! but in Spanish, so it's 'Gol, Vamos! Vamos! Gol!' And with my dad it's more just like, 'Goooool!' It's short and sweet, but just as powerful and just as passionate.

SA: How’d you first start playing soccer? Playing soccer with your dad growing up?

NICO CANTOR: Fun fact: my dad would travel so much when I was little, that he wasn't around for a ton of [my childhood] so, I actually took a liking to baseball until 1st grade. Then I stopped playing sports. A few years later, I started being a goalkeeper, and I played goalie all throughout high school and a few years in college. These days I'm back playing Sunday League 11 vs. 11, which is incredibly daunting, but it's fun.

SA: Who was better in their prime. You or your dad? Playing, not broadcasting.

NICO CANTOR: Playing? OK. We've had this conversation with my dad's best friend and his son who is my age. We believe that we would cook my dad and his best friend. I've seen my dad play these days — I think he's a bit heavier than he was when he was my age. But in his prime, I obviously think I would beat my dad.

You know what? I've seen pictures of my dad when he was my age now — he might've been a better broadcaster but I don't know about a better footballer.

SA: Tell us about your tri-national heritage a little bit.

NICO CANTOR: So my dad is Argentine. His parents left Argentina during the military dictatorship in the 70s when my dad was 15. My mom came from Honduras to study at university in the mid-80s and my parents met and lived for a while in LA. I was born in Miami because Univision moved its studios from LA to Miami right before I was born, in like 92'.

SA: How do you decide who to root for when Argentina, the USA or Honduras play each other?

NICO CANTOR: It's tough. Naturally I want all of them to do well. It's mostly Honduras and the USA — they just played each other, and it's really tough because I'm very happy for the U.S. because it was kind of a must-win game. And Honduras was also in a tough situation where they needed to win. It's kind of like, I can never lose, but at the same time, I can never win.

Argentina is in a different ballpark when it comes to the national team because of the history and the players that they have. I've learned to love Argentina differently because they are always there, but now that I've followed this generation of U.S. players so closely as a reporter, you end up wanting them to do well because it's the player who you broadcast and who you report on.

We've seen this generation go from a heartbreaking World Cup elimination to renovation, and finding a new coach. You want it to go full circle for their own sake. It's tough. Ask me when the U.S. plays Argentina in a World Cup quarterfinal and that's when push will come to shove.

“I really felt after the allegiance to your [home country’s] national team, we all owed some type of allegiance, by the fact that we lived in the USA, to the U.S. national team. And I think as a generalization, we all rallied behind the U.S. national team because the USA is our adopted country, no matter where we’re from.”
-- Andres Cantor (Soccer America, interview 2015)

SA: Your dad coined the term La Selección de Todos (“Everyone’s national team”) believing that immigrant communities in the USA should support the World Cup host in 1994. … Do you agree with that sentiment? What do you think about that?

NICO CANTOR: I think that phrase is pretty representative of what the U.S. stands for as a country and is represented in the national team. My dad was broadcasting the U.S. men's national team and giving them airtime when nobody was doing it. The U.S. men's national team became my dad's national team too. He became close with that generation, and every time I speak with players and coaches from that generation, they have so much respect for my dad.

As the generations have gone by, it still is La Seleccion de Todos because the United States is evolving. I look at myself — I can identify with Sebastian Lletget, who is Argentine-American. He drinks mate when he can and I drink it all the time too. He has Argentine family and customs, but at the same time he's proud to be who he is as an American.

In every pocket of this country, there are different types of Americans and different sounding Americans. Some people don't believe me that I'm American, but I only have one passport, and I proudly own it. I'm happy to have been born in this country because it's given me a vast perspective on all types of people and backgrounds. …

Imagine, it's like, I identify with Lletget, but imagine how many people identify with Ricardo Pepi.

SA: Have you visited Argentina and Honduras as a kid or recently?

NICO CANTOR: I used to go more to Honduras when I was little. There's an island called Roatan that we would go to with all my extended family. It's like a scuba diving destination. I was on mainland Honduras three years ago for my grandpa's 80th birthday — it was a huge party.

I studied abroad in Argentina in 2015. That was the only time I've properly lived in Argentina. I went to every single Boca game I could go to. I didn't miss a single one. So it was an important trip for me and my self-identification. To have my own realization moment to see if I could really be Argentinian, maybe see if I wanted to.

I had a national identity crisis when I was in college. I tried to decipher what it was and going to Argentina definitely helped me realize that my background is Argentine but that I am American and I like being American.

SA: Do your mom and sister like soccer? Or do they just put up with it?

NICO CANTOR: Good question because I think my sister doesn't care that much. I constantly do pop quizzes with her to see how much her soccer knowledge has either developed or dwindled.

The one who knows a lot now is my girlfriend. She went into the relationship knowing little to nothing about soccer. And now — she's Colombian — she could name you every single Colombian on Boca and the important teams around the world.

My mom likes watching my dad and me much more than actually watching the game. So she's always supporting, although she may not know too much, when the Honduran national team plays she's watching, and odds are either me or my dad is broadcasting it in some capacity.

SA: You said Andres was away a lot when you were a kid. Was that hard? Would you often watch the games he announced?

NICO CANTOR: I was so young when that was happening. I kind of remember the moments when he was away, and I remember the moments when my sister — like how tough it was sometimes. I remember, once my dad had to tell us that he wouldn't be there for my sister's graduation. And my dad was crying — I had never seen my dad cry before. And all credit to my mom, because when one parent wasn't there, she made sure that everything functioned smoothly.

My mom is an incredible role model and an incredible human being so, credit to her — she helped my dad do what he did and achieve the things he achieved while keeping a steady household and educating her kids the right way.

My mom loves quoting My Big Fat Greek Wedding: "the man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants." So, you know, my dad may be the head of the family, but without my mom, he couldn't do any of the things he achieved.

SA: Would kids at school know you had a famous dad?

NICO CANTOR: Yeah, I mean people find out one way or another. Especially Latino people. When you play on a soccer team, once one person finds out, everyone finds out who your dad is. I have a lot of common interests with my friends and most of that is soccer, but I have other friends that don't know anything about soccer — the only thing they know about it is through me. One of my college roommate's is a musician, and whenever he's with my dad, they don't talk about soccer, and it's really funny because I never find my dad not talking about soccer, you know? And my dad loves my friend and they talk about music and a bunch of things, so it's funny. Those people take my dad for who he is as a person and not as the broadcaster.

SA: When did you decide you wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a broadcaster?

NICO CANTOR: It happened naturally. My dad says that he never forced me to do anything, and he didn't. But I felt that I had no choice — I had been around broadcasting my entire life. I remember I would go to the studio late at night on weekends when he was calling a Mexican league game at 10 p.m. and I would stay for the highlight show. And I was in the studio, in the control room, I was in the radio booth at his radio station. So, I don't even remember if there was a day where I said, I want to be a broadcaster. It was kind of like a given. That's what I wanted to do.

SA: Talk about your radio experience and how you like it vs. TV broadcasting.

NICO CANTOR: When I was 15, I did like mixed zone and Gold Cup and that was the first time my voice was on air.

SA: That's gotta be some sort of record.

NICO CANTOR: [laughs] I don't know, but my dad gave me the opportunity and started grooming me in the broadcast world. Every summer, when there was either a Gold Cup or a Mexican national team tour, I would be with my dad and every year my responsibilities started to get more and more important until he felt I was ready to be thrusted on as a sideline reporter.

And this summer I got to call the Gold Cup final and it was an honor to do that. I'm so grateful for that — I've learned from the best, because it's not only my dad but everybody who I've worked with in the world of Spanish-language broadcasting that has shaped me in one way or another into the broadcaster that I am. To be honest, I love Spanish-language radio. It's the most high paced, it's the most emotional — it's an art.

SA: What was it like doing the Volkswagen commercial? Have you gotten some funny public moments from it?

NICO CANTOR: That commercial was pretty fun. None of my friends knew I would be in it — but nobody who I didn't know recognized me. My friends kind of lost it when it was halftime at a World Cup and it's, 'oh my god, that's Nico!' We filmed it in one day and it was really fun. A lot of my friends, to this day, still make fun of me by quoting the line that I say from that commercial.

The punchline of the joke in the English-language version of the commercial is 'Papi, please!' And every so often a friend will remember and say, 'Papi, please!' And be super annoying about it.

SA: When you call a goal, do you say ‘Gooooool!’ like your dad?

NICO CANTOR: Yeah I mean, it depends on the moment. If it's in Spanish I'll go longer, sometimes in English I've stopped calling 'gol!' for so long. if it's a really big moment I'll do it — but it goes back to that knowing your audience thing, where maybe an English-speaking audience might be a little off put by a super long 'gool!'

For example, my dad was on a Premier League broadcast of the Manchester United game and because people know who my dad is he can get away with it because he's Andres Cantor and has this whole legacy behind him.

But I'm an American — I'm not like a Latino who's an English speaker. So I know my audience and I know that sometimes in English they may not like it. So my goal call has been transformed into something different that might feel good for me at the moment. But in Spanish [goool!] is the staple and I don't want to copy my dad in the sense of doing it for super long but you know, give it your own twist.

I'm still early in my career where I can still mess around with it and see what I like, so hopefully by the time I'm my dad's age I've locked down a signature call.

SA: Your dad is the recipient of the most prestigious media award in American soccer, the Hall of Fame's Colin Jose Award. Is there anything you want to say about your dad and his career?

NICO CANTOR: It's something that I'm super proud of. He's worked his butt off for so many years and sacrificed so much and put in so many hours of broadcasting ... to be where he is and have the status he has in the American soccer media world, it's great that all of that is finally getting recognized. For him to be my dad and a broadcaster — it fills me with pride, it fills me with gratitude and I'm so happy for him and for my mom. It's like a familial thing where there's a whole team behind it.

At the end of the day — waiting for my dad for two months to come back from a World Cup and anxiously crying when I was 7 years old after not seeing my dad for the longest ever of my life — I look back at it, and as I'm blazing my own path in this industry, you know, you can feel that it was all worth it.

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