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In the U.S., Soccer Has a Distinctive Voice, and It Belongs to Andrés Cantor

In the run-up to next year’s World Cup, the Argentine-born announcer is perfecting his signature call: GGGGOOOOAAAALLLL!

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(XM Satellite Radio/AP)
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Even if you’re not a soccer fan, you’ve probably heard Andrés Cantor’s voice, or at the very least, a bad impression of Andrés Cantor’s voice. He’s the guy known for yelling “GGGGOOOOAAAALLLL” for as long as his lungs will allow. Cantor shot to fame in America while announcing the 1994 World Cup, the first held in the United States. Since then, Cantor’s signature call—the tekiah gedolah of sports—has made its way into television commercials and is even available as a ringtone.

It would be unfair, though, to define Cantor by a single gimmick. Over the past three decades, he’s become America’s premier Spanish-language radio and television announcer, joining a long list of prominent Jewish sportscasters that includes (but certainly isn’t limited to) Howard Cosell, Dick Schaap, and Marty Glickman, as well as Marv Albert, Al Michaels, and, more recently, Andrea Kremer and Karl Ravech.

With teams now scrambling to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Brazil, Cantor is preparing for his quadrennial turn in the national sports consciousness. On Friday, he’ll be calling Mexico-Panama on Fútbol de Primera radio, and next Tuesday he’ll be calling Mexico-Costa Rica on Telemundo TV.

Cantor’s love of soccer can be traced back to his childhood in Argentina, the country to which his Romanian and Polish grandparents immigrated before the Holocaust. As a kid, he religiously listened to games on the radio. The broadcasters, he remembers, were never afraid to let loose—especially when someone scored. “That’s the way I grew up listening to goals,” said Cantor, who moved with his parents to California as a teenager. “It was nothing new.”

Cantor may not have invented the emphatically protracted goal call, but during the last World Cup, in South Africa, he just about perfected it. On June 23, 2010, the United States took on Algeria for a spot in the knockout round. When American Landon Donovan scored the dramatic game winner in the 91st minute, Cantor unleashed a 30-second long blast of joy.

The call, which was actually broadcast on the radio, not on TV, soon found its way to YouTube. “I guess somebody was listening,” Cantor said. Since then, users have synched up the audio with the video, creating a sublime highlight reel. In soccer broadcasting, the line between exuberant and comically over the top can be thin. But in this case, Cantor’s goal call fit the situation perfectly. “If you can turn it up at the right moment, it’s good,” ESPN anchor Max Bretos, a longtime Cantor fan, said of his vocal style. “He does it well.”

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Like many Jewish parents, Dr. David Cantor, a gastroenterologist, felt a twinge of disappointment when his children decided not to pursue careers in medicine. But his wife, Alicia—a psychologist—told him not to worry. “She said, ‘Let the kids do what they want to do so they can be happy,’ ” Dr. Cantor recalled when we spoke recently.

For his son Andrés, that meant writing about—and eventually broadcasting—soccer. By the mid-1970s, his parents moved with their children to the United States after deciding they’d had enough of Argentina’s then-dictatorial government. In 1975, David Cantor took a teaching position at the University of California Davis. After a year there, he landed a job at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, near Los Angeles. Alicia soon built a psychology practice in town, and the family settled in affluent suburb San Marino.

Relocating wasn’t easy on Andrés. He was a teenager, he didn’t yet speak English, and he desperately missed following his favorite team, Boca Juniors, who played their home games 6,000 miles away. “I lost the love of my life,” he said, “which was being around football.”

That was remedied somewhat when he joined the club soccer team as an undergraduate at USC. Meanwhile, he became a correspondent for Editorial Atlántida, the Argentinian publishing giant. For Gente, the company’s celebrity magazine—“gente” means “people”—Cantor wrote celebrity profiles. One day he was interviewing economist Milton Friedman, the next he was flying to Cleveland to chat with Mr. T. “ ‘The A-Team,’ ” Cantor told me, “was huge in Argentina.”

He also filed stories for El Gráfico, Atlántida’s influential sports weekly. “Everyone waited on Tuesdays for the magazine to come out,” he said. “This was the bible.” His time at El Gráfico overlapped with Diego Maradona’s time as the world’s greatest soccer player. Cantor trailed the Argentine superstar all over the globe in the 1980s, to World Cups in Spain and Mexico, and to Italy, where he lifted Napoli, his once lowly club team, to two league titles. In Naples, Cantor recalled, El Diego was “venerated like a god. Like a pope. I’d never seen anything like it.”

In the United States, soccer was still a fringe sport. But that never really bothered Cantor, who had the fortune to begin his career just as the soccer-crazed Hispanic market in the United States began growing exponentially. In early 1987, Spanish-language network Univision asked him to audition. After recording color commentary for a tape-delayed friendly between Club América and Roma, executives asked if he was brave enough to do the play-by-play. “I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ ” said Cantor, who proceeded to call a match between the Argentinian team Rosario Central and Mexican heavyweights Chivas. “And luckily I got hired right after that.”

While deeply rooted in Latin America, Cantor’s revved-up on-air persona was also shaped by his time growing up in Los Angeles during the Magic Johnson era. Cantor counts longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, whose broadcasts were simulcast on both radio and TV, as a major influence. “I thought he was the closest thing to the analysis that I grew up listening to in Spanish in Argentine radio,” Cantor said. “The pace that he gave his broadcast. He had a lot of enthusiasm.” He particularly loved Hearn’s catch phrases and began coming up with a few of his own. At the end of every game, he declares that “el árbitro dice que no hay tiempo para más”—“the referee says there is not time for more.”

And then there are his signature goal calls, which first caught on when he was working the 1994 World Cup for Univision. “We make it a little more lively than English-language broadcasts, which are a little more subdued,” said Cantor. “But it’s just a matter of style. One isn’t better than the other.” That summer, he made the first of two guest appearances on The Late Show With David Letterman. “As I said back then, and obviously still to this day, it’s nothing that I invented,” said Cantor, who’s since starred in a Geico ad and made a cameo in the movie version of Speed Racer. “I just helped popularize it.”

To American soccer fans, even those who may not speak Spanish, Cantor is a folk hero. It appears, David Cantor proudly acknowledged, that Andrés picked the right profession. “Andrés Cantor used to be Dr. David Cantor’s son,” Dr. Cantor said. “Now Dr. David Cantor is Andrés Cantor’s father.”

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In the U.S., Soccer Has a Distinctive Voice, and It Belongs to Andrés Cantor

In the run-up to next year’s World Cup, the Argentine-born announcer is perfecting his signature call: GGGGOOOOAAAALLLL!

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