The Interview: Andrés Cordero of CBS Sports
We’ve got one last post before Christmas! It’s the written Q&A of a really fun interview that Chris Wittyngham and I did this week with Andrés Cordero, the lead soccer commentator for CBS Sports. There’s so much good stuff in here, from Cordero’s meticulous game preparation routine to his advice for students to sharing his incredible story of getting out of Cuba with his family, spending a year in Noriega’s Panama, enduring the U.S. invasion of Panama and eventually emigrating to the United States. Enjoy!
Our guest now is Andrés Cordero. He's the lead soccer commentator for CBS Sports and Paramount+ broadcasting Serie A games and the U.S. men's national team’s away World Cup qualifiers. He also does Inter Miami's local broadcasts with Ray Hudson. Dre, congrats on everything you're doing, and thanks for coming on the show.
Hey, thanks so much. I've been listening to you guys for some time now. By the way, adding Witty was just a master stroke, he's been crushing it. So thanks for the invite.
Awesome. Lots to talk about here. You're just back for being onsite at San Siro to broadcast Napoli's 1-0 win at Milan over the weekend. What was that whole experience like being in the stadium and in the city for such a big game?
“We ended up being in Panama for a year. While we were there, the U.S. invades to remove Noriega, this was 1990. And so Panama turns into essentially a war zone. We can no longer go to school, there are American tanks rolling in the streets. For me and my brother, we were so sheltered from it, our parents did such a good job of making that a tolerable time for us, that I just thought, "Cool, G.I. Joe is downstairs near my building, this is awesome." But my parents must have been terrified.” — Andrés Cordero
I've got conflicting views. All of them are good, but part of it was, finally, after covering European football for a good 15 years now since 2003, 2004, when I started working at GolTV until now, getting a chance to actually do these games on location as opposed to halfway across the world, which just speaks to the commitment that CBS have to doing whatever they do at the highest level possible. I've worked for rights holders for Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga, the Championship all of these years, and obviously it's easier when we're covering Major League Soccer, the U.S. national team, but to actually do these games from site with American voices as opposed to just from there with what's available, which is usually UK-style commentary, was a dream for me.
And walking up to the San Siro, hearing the sounds of that stadium, the fact that on a big game, from here, from the U.S., you've got maybe three, four games going on on a given day, they'll all feel big on Twitter, but you walk outside, no one's talking about them for the most part unless you're at a soccer specific pub or something like that. In Milano, you just hear in the train stations, in the hotel, a whisper of San Siro, a whisper of Napoli, a whisper of Ibrahimović throughout that day. So there's this big buildup to these games. And then you walk up to the stadium, and it's got its red iron gutters popping out and the big spires going up, you feel like this is a place where big games are played. And that was an absolutely massive one.
And I think the thing that sticks with me most, thinking about it now, is working with Christian Vieri for years, whenever his name was introduced either on camera or on audio, you’d say, "Christian Vieri," he'd go ahhhhh. What’s that about? When you actually stand in San Siro, and when you hear what that crowd sounds like, I don't blame him. I think he just wants to hear that over and over again whenever you hear his name.
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I know you’d probably prefer to be in the stadium all the time, it's just not possible for a lot of reasons. What sort of things do you have to adjust to when you actually do call a game in the stadium as opposed to off a screen?
Yeah. So one of the reasons I said that I had sort of conflicting feelings about it because it was a big match, it felt like a big moment, but at the same time there was this normalcy about it. There was this sense of, "These are teams that I cover intimately that I know a lot about." There was that comfort factor that I think maybe comes a little bit from how much extra you have to prepare when you're doing games off monitor as opposed to being able to feed off of whatever's going on in the stadium.
And I mean, Chris can attest to this, he's seen the sort of sticker making that I go through. My stickers look like trading cards. I mean, I've got players’ faces on it. For example, you might be doing a team you're not so familiar with, and they punch up the substitutes, you can't see his number. It might be a kid that's making his debut, you can't see the number on the shorts or on the shirt, and so you need ways to identify them instantly. And so, I've just throughout the years, learning from Phil Schoen, from other commentators, seeing how they work, figured, "Okay, well, that works and this makes this easier." You learn little tricks when you're off monitor so that you can make sure that you're accurate.
I think the best trick and the one that I maybe struggle with the most is to just shut up. You're not going to get punished for the things that you don't say, so if you're not sure, don't take a risk. I think Ross Dyer was the first one to tell me that. Ross worked with us at BeIN Sports and went on to ESPN. And so, you just learn that discipline of if you're not sure, keep your mouth shut. Little tricks like haircuts, the color of boots, whether they're wearing wristbands. When you get to know players and the team a little better, you can identify their posture, the way they run.
A team like Napoli, for example, has a whole army of five-foot seven little playmakers who move the same way, look the same way, and have the same haircut. So you just find these little details, make notes of them in game. I'll have all these different color highlighters, and I will put little dot in the highlighted color of their boots because boots are so colorful these days to help just sort of lock it down in my brain, just little things like that that you just added throughout the years, and all of it came through making massive mistakes time and time again.
Commentators love bleached blonde hair. We're big fans of bleached blonde hair. But I do think that we should talk a little bit more about your time in Milano because I don't think people really grasped… I remember, my first game in person was like six years into the beginning of my career. It was actually Inter Miami's first home game, which was in front of nobody. It was in an empty stadium and still for me, even commentating with a mask on, it was like, "This is incredible. I can actually see the players." So can you just take us through on a match day, what Milan is like, and how different it was to actually experience some of the things that maybe you talked about from having read them, but you actually can experience them because you're there?
I'll tell you what, one thing that really helped is when we did the Nations League Final in Denver, to do U.S.A-Mexico in a big NFL stadium with a massive crowd, so it didn't feel like the moment was bigger than anything I'd ever experienced before, even if it was because it's European soccer, because it's Milan-Napoli, because there's Scudetto implications on the line, but just having been in that sort of scenario where I thought, "Okay, this is one of those bucket list games," helped me out tremendously.
Beyond that, the willingness of Serie A and of Milan to help when you are there versus when you're halfway across the world and you've got all of these middlemen in between, and you're getting information second and third hand to just be able to sort of pull somebody aside pitchside and ask for, "Can you get us this interview? Where do we get this? Where do we get that?"
I felt like they think that what CBS is doing is special and different from what other networks have done with Serie A in the past. And it's not in any way a slight, it genuinely is a different approach to covering a league that is not the Mexican League, that is not the Premier League, it's not the number one soccer property in America, but we give it the same treatment that we would, say, a U.S. national team away game, which we do, which we know is a big occasion for us.
And so that whole setup of going the day before, of being at the actual venue, of watching that place slowly fill up. The moment when, for example, all the Napoli fans came in, it's a small section of Napoli fans that are all the way in the top and all the security that goes behind sort of making sure that they get there safely, and more importantly, that they get out safely eventually, there was this roar from the Napoli fans when they arrived, and it just felt like this invading army quality to it.
And so, five minutes in, Napoli score the opening goal off of a corner kick and a stadium of... it fits 75,000, there's COVID protocols in place right now, so you've got about 40-50,000 there, just goes eerily quiet. And this one little corner, this one little section is losing its mind. It's just a beautiful moment that just sounds and feels different when you're there, when you're in San Siro, given the history of that place, given the acoustics of it that you don't really get when you're in an eight-by-eight audio broom closet somewhere in America.
And I know also too, you had one of the all-time great calls on the disallowed late equalizer. What was it? A goal at the death on the day of his birth? Something like that?
Yeah. Franck Kessié was celebrating his birthday. I don't script my goal calls, which is why so often it's just me yelling into a microphone, but yeah, this one obviously it was Franck Kessié's birthday, it's at the death, the game's about to end. And I think that was like the second part of my goal call and I was like, "Wow, I nailed that." And then, sure enough, they're looking at VAR, I thought, "Oh no, it got wiped out." I appreciate the sentiment; I appreciate that you enjoyed that. It's still recorded, it's there forever, it's just not going to make any highlight reels at the end of the season.
It's the worst, isn't it? It's so terrible, it's wasted on a moment that, unfortunately, you just throw that one away, it doesn't make any highlight reels. You see it in American sports all the time where the great catches that are like a toe out of bounds in the NFL, it's like, "Well, that one's not making a highlight reel, it's unfortunate."
But we know what happened, just want everyone to know that. You're obviously calling Serie A games on a regular basis. What are some of the things that have stood out to you so far about this Italian season?
So this season, in particular, is special just because of the sheer number of title contenders that we've seen. We're almost at the midpoint of the season now, right at the midpoint of the season. But I've been saying for the better part of a decade, going back to our coverage on BeIN Sports that Serie A was consistently providing the most exciting football in Europe. And I know people thought, "Well, if you're not watching it," you thought, "Well, Juve is winning every single year, how exciting could that be?" But regularly, just the number of goals, the quality of goals, the quality of play has been sensational for so long now. It's not your father's Serie A, it's not Catenaccio with the exception of Juve with a very defensive mentality being very, very successful.
And I think that's had an effect. I would compare it to what happened in La Liga with Barcelona, where Pep [Guardiola]’s Barca is playing tiki-taka, other teams, even [José] Mourinho's Madrid realized, "Well, we're not going to take the ball away from these teams and beat them at their own game." And so teams became more reactive, more defensive, more counter-attacking, and had their relative success in that style. So one team's success in one style led to this reaction across the league that did the exact opposite.
Marcelo Bielsa says that, and I'll paraphrase here, that the worst thing about Pep Guardiola is that he invented the system inadvertently to beat Pep Guardiola teams, which was teams hanging from the crossbar, teams counter-attacking. I think Juventus has had a similar effect just in the reverse in that they were so good, so solid defensively in that sort of old school Catenaccio style that other teams thought, "Well, we're not going to be able to take a 1-0 lead against Juve, and park the bus, and defend it. They're going to score again and they're going to try and do the same to us."
And so that's where you get the Atalantas now, the way Milan are playing, even Inter under [Simone] Inzaghi are a more fluid, more attacking team than they were under Antonio Conte. Empoli are a delight to watch, Fiorentina. You've got all of these teams throughout the league that are playing in the opposition's half, trying to win the ball back as high as possible, trying to hold on to possession.
Napoli have been doing it going back to before Maurizio Sarri, even Walter Mazzarri, and that's made for just a really aesthetic, really fun product, and the only thing that was missing was a proper title race. Occasionally, you would get Roma to challenge Juventus, occasionally you'd get Napoli to challenge Juventus. Now Juve are struggling and are outside of the top four, and it's a genuine four-team race, I think it's more like three, but I wouldn't count Atalanta out yet.
Can you alleviate my concerns that Inter might run away with it?
So Inter have been lucky in the sense that... they've been brilliant, by the way, they're the best team in Serie A at the moment, and they're arguably better now than they were last year. I thought it was a legit question to ask at the beginning of the season where those goals that left in the summer transfer market, [Romelu] Lukaku, [Achraf] Hakimi, where do those goals come from? And I don't think anybody could have foreseen the answer being everywhere, because they've had 15 different goal scorers, they’ve scored more goals at this stage than they did last year.
But where I say they've been a bit fortunate is unlike Napoli, unlike Milan, they've not had any serious injuries to contend with. They've had all their players, they're a deep squad, which if you look at, in Milan's case, players like [Davide] Calabria, like Rafael Leão, were breaking out playing at the highest level, they went the first 12 games without a loss and then all of these important key starters get hurt, their form dips. Same happened with Napoli, Napoli and Milan were the last two remaining unbeaten teams in Europe in the European big leagues until Matchday 13, both lost at the same time, both suffered injuries and they've had their dip.
And so if Inter continue to have this spell of good fortune where none of their big players are injured, they're not missing, then, yeah, they're probably going to run away with it. I don't think that's the case though. These sort of things, water finds its level, they balance out over the course of the season, and it's still just a four-point gap between them, Milan and Napoli who are level on points in second and third.
I will say this because I got to see Inter in-person randomly in Moldova on my story for FC Sheriff during Champions League, came away really impressed with just how they looked in-person. And also Javier Zanetti sat behind me at the stadium. He really is as young looking as he appears to be, so it was pretty impressive. I've always been a huge Javier Zanetti fan and I'm just totally impressed with how Inter has handled what they lost and in what they're doing this season at this point.
I do want to switch gears just a little bit, you're going to be broadcasting the very big Canada-U.S.A World Cup qualifier in just a few weeks. Number one and number two in the Octagonal right now. Did you ever think there would be this much excitement heading into a Canada-U.S.A men's soccer game?
Eventually, yes. Did I think it would happen this soon? No. I think Canada didn't have a top division until not so long ago, basically their only exposure for big players was to come to MLS. They didn't really have stars, and now they have not one star but a legit number of players in that 11 that can really hurt you on a given day. They don't have to start all their best players; they can rotate even in this format of three-game windows and still be extremely competitive. We've seen them beat Mexico. And so I didn't think that it would come this soon. I don't know that anybody saw just how good Canada would be in this particular window, but it is the single best thing that could happen to soccer in our half of the world, that it's not just Mexico and the U.S., but Mexico, the U.S., Canada and a potential dark horse making life difficult for them.
And you go into these games now, it used to be that you'd think, "Well, if you can scratch a point off of Mexico, whether it's home or away, that's a good result." And now any combination of those three teams, Mexico, USA, Canada, you generally cannot predict it. You don't know who's going to win that game, and that just adds so much, given the stakes of world cup qualifying and given the still sort of semi raw scabs of 2018, it just adds this extra element of not desperation, but anticipation, and a little bit of doubt, and that's what makes our game great, isn't it? That you're scared for your life that things aren't going to go your way, and when they do, it's sublime.
I want to ask you, because you do the away games for the U.S. in CONCACAF, and we talk a lot on our podcast with Landon Donovan about how difficult those games are, and whether or not away in CONCACAF is enough of an excuse for some of the performances that we've seen. So you don't really get to see the best of the U.S., in my opinion, except for when they come back from 1-0 down to win by four goals to one away in Honduras. But what have you seen in your games that is different about how the U.S. plays when they're away versus at home?
Yeah, if we're honest, the U.S. has played 45 minutes away from home at a high level, at a really good high level, so far this season, some good, some bad in the other ones, but the only one where you thought, "Okay, this is where a team is playing up to its potential was that second half comeback against Honduras." And Chris, I love that you went there, because every single time I walk out of one of those games, with the exception of that Honduras match, I get someone just looking at me saying, "The away games are tough to do, huh?" And they are, they're sort of joyless at times, you just want to get a result, because you know it's not going to be comfortable. It's more likely than not, not going to be fun.
For me they're all fun, in large part because of the group that I work with. I think one of the things that CBS have done just so exceptionally well, whether it's in the Champions League coverage, the CONCACAF coverage, the Serie A coverage, is they just know how to put good groups together. And so we really enjoy the time that we work on these games, win, lose, draw, play well, don't play well.
But sometimes it feels a little bit like a chore when it's minute 72 of that Panama game, for example, you know it's not going to go your way, and I got crucified halfway through that second half asking Maurice Edu, my color-commentator there, "Hey, would you take a point?" And people want just to bang their heads against the TV because, of course, you'd take a point with how badly things were going, but I just wanted to get him on record saying, "Yes, I'd take a point, this is not great." And you don't want to complain for 90 minutes, you don't want to be negative.
And it's not about homerism, it's about being entertaining at the end of the day, because what we do is entertainment television. And I come from the Broadcasting School of Ray Hudson where football is joy. Football is supposed to be fun; you're supposed to have a good time. And anything that you see, one team not playing well, making mistakes, yeah, you can focus on the mistakes, you can complain, you can say he should have scored there, or they should do better, or this isn't good enough, or you can give credit to the opposition that's out there playing well and doing the things they're supposed to be doing.
And I tend to, in those games, shift toward praising the team that's making the U.S. look bad rather than complaining about how poor the U.S. are. And it's the little tricks to the trades so that I'm not getting overly negative. The fan at home sees what they're seeing, I'm not lying to them, they know it's a rough go of it, but I feel like maybe they're not focused enough on some of the things that the opposition is doing well, and if I can highlight that, then I think the broadcast is better for it.
I do think it's a really interesting topic that Chris brought up, and I'm glad you talked about it because did anyone ever try the slogan, the official broadcaster of mediocre to bad U.S. men’s national team soccer? [Laughs]