If you grew up watching soccer in this country during the 90's and 2000's, Andres Cantor is a name you instantly recognize. Even for those who didn't speak Spanish, his "GOOOOOLLLL" call could very well have been the reason an entire generation was born into being soccer fans. That also included Andres' own son, Nico. After several years covering the sport as well as doing play by play on both tv and radio for TUDN, (Univision Sports) Nico Cantor is now one of the top soccer personalities on American television. He is the host of "The Golazo Show", CBS Sports' Champions League and Europa League whip-around programs. He also still calls games on radio for his father's company "Futbol de Primera", and hosts "U.S. Futbol", a Spanish podcast focusing on all things U.S. Soccer. So it was appropriate to bring him on just a day away from an epic matchup in World Cup Qualifying. USA will be taking on their hated rivals Mexico on Friday in Cincinnati, and Nico breaks it down here.
Stefano: Friday night, obviously we have one of the biggest rivalry matchups in the sport. This summer, USA beat Mexico twice in finals, with two different versions of the US Men's National Team. I know that you covered those games. You called that Miles Robinson game winning goal to win the Gold Cup for the US. Heading into this matchup, this is not the best version of the US Men's National Team just because of some injuries. No Gio Reyna, no Sergino Dest. Christian Pulisic is back from injury though. What are your thoughts on what's going on with the US Men's National Team after this incredible summer, proving they're taking the next step. But this is a big test against their rival in what's likely to be another heated game that we're gonna see on Friday.
Nico: Yeah, so let me just say from the other side, I don't think this is the best version of the Mexican national team that we've seen either. Despite both being the heavy hitters in CONCACAF. I don't want to play down how important this game is, obviously because soccer is a zero sum game. Someone's going to win, and it's going to be super awesome for them. Someone's going to lose, and it's gonna be super crappy for them. At the end of the day, I think if the US can escape this game with a point (tie), and then beat Jamaica in their second game in this international window...four points would be more than ideal. But I think losing to Mexico gives you that extra pressure to win in Jamaica and away wins in CONCACAF are just super hard to come by. When the United States didn't qualify for the 2018 World Cup, they didn't win a single game on the road during qualifying. So a team that maybe is more experienced than this one couldn't win on the road in CONCACAF. It's gonna be a challenge for these guys. You know, the expectations are high, you're at home, the expectation is to not lose. Mexico, I think they need to have a convincing performance in this game. But just in general, I think they need to have these convincing type performances, to show that they're still the best team in CONCACAF. They sit comfortably in first, 3 points ahead of the US. But Mexico is going to qualify for the World Cup, the United States is going to qualify to the World Cup, I have no doubt about that. I think the rest of the teams in CONCACAF haven't shown the quality that it takes to be in that top three. For me, I see Mexico, the United States and Canada in a group of their own. So it's, it's about managing emotions. If the US lose (to Mexico), it's not the end of the world. But you got to get a result in Jamaica. And if you're Mexico, if you lose (to the US) it's not the end of the world. But then you have to go to Edmonton in Canada, where it's colder than any place I've been to in the world, and get a result against Canada. You don't want Canada to start being that bully in that top 3, trying to dethrone you. It's just a matter of action and then reaction, so you know, someone's gonna have to react after any loss. So a draw is ideal for both. The result will help to serve certain narratives for how the projects are progressing for both Mexico coach Tata Martino, and USA coach Gregg Berhalter. So it'll be opportunity for people who want to talk smack about the coach who loses.
Stefano: You mentioned Berhalter, and that's where I was going next. He's been criticized. He's been hailed. It's been kind of up and down with him. What are your thoughts on the job that he's been able to do? Bringing in the players from Europe, bringing in the players that he thinks are best from MLS? What are your thoughts on the job that he's been able to do to bring this team together, with arguably the most talented rosters that we've ever seen for the USMNT?
Nico: For Berhalter, this is just as much as a learning process as it is for the young players, playing CONCACAF for the first time. Berhalter has never coached away in CONCACAF up until now. We saw the mistakes. He didn't know what it was to travel to Panama. He didn't know what it was like to travel to Honduras. And he's done a couple of questionable things that I think he himself says 'Maybe I shouldn't have done that.' For example, the rotations against Panama. He switched up most of his team for that match. Obviously, e had to rotate a few guys, obligated subs if you will, because it was the second of the three match window. I think it just the way that you read those rotations, it was like he was thinking ahead to the game against Costa Rica a few days later. He thought that he could have taken care of business in Panama with an alternate group of guys. They lost. I think he learned his lesson and I don't think he's gonna make that many rotations anymore. You got to go with your best team and win every single game you can. There's no rotations in South America with Argentina for example. Every single game, Lionel Messi plays 90 minutes. Three games in one week for Argentina. For the US, Tyler Adams is what, 22 years old. He's an essential part of the United States national team. He might be the most important component of the entire team. So he should be playing every single game and he didn't play against Panama, and I think you noticed that in the way that the team played. So I think Gregg has certain values that are modern, certain methodologies that are modern, and he's a good guy. He wants the best for his national team. The US Soccer Federation took a year and change to get a national team manager, and he's still trying to implement his style. I think we can draw big picture conclusions from the World Cup. Let's see how they do in Qatar. The United States should be making the World Cup 10 out of 10 times. I'll give you a better conclusion of Berhalter and how he manages games against world class opponents, and depending on the draw, we'll see how the US does. His own future will be decided after that.
Stefano: At the end of the day, I think it's an exciting time to be a US Men's National Team fan. We're seeing all this growth, and yes, there's still growing to be done. Like I said this is probably the most talented team that the US has ever had. We have Christian Pulisic playing at Chelsea, Weston McKennie at Juventus; players in some of the top clubs in the world. I try to tell some of my casual soccer fan friends, that this is the moment to get excited. But you know, it's still a little bit tough. I think they're aren't going to be pumped and excited about this soccer team until they get to that World Cup. I think that when they do get there, when they do qualify, I think that will make a huge difference in support.
Nico: In this country, the casual fan rides on the the wave of emotion, going into a World Cup. Obviously the US being on that world stage, it's going to excite a lot of people. But it will put a heavy amount of expectations on this group. Not only for this World Cup, but for 2026, which we don't have to qualify for because we're hosting the World Cup that year. It's a big time opportunity with big expectations and awesome players to see. We'll see post World Cup just how fans react. I think more people are interested in the Pulisic's of the world and the Tyler Adams' of the world and the Weston McKennie's of the world. I think it's a sense of national pride that an American has the number 10 shirt for Chelsea. McKennie is an important part Juventus. Tyler Adams is working his way up the Red Bull Leipzig ranks and growing. Gio Reyna at Borussia Dortmund, they see him as a little jewel. And there's so many more Americans that are in the mix over in Europe. I mean, I think we're going to get to the point in this country where, similar to what happens in other countries like Argentina, where supporters become fans of European teams that their favorite domestic soccer stars play. You know, growing up, I was a Carlos Tevez fan. So I became Corinthians fan when he left Boca Juniors. Then I was a West Ham fan. I was a Manchester United fan. I was Manchester City fan. I was a huge fan of Tevez, so it didn't matter who he played for, I liked the team he was currently on. And hopefully the American fans will do the same. If another American player goes to the Premier League, US fans will instantly have a team to adopt, like many have already done with Chelsea after the arrival of Pulisic. Hopefully we can see more Americans shining in Europe and flying that American flag to have more people around the world respecting our soccer.