Over the next few days, I figure you’re going to read plenty of stories about the U.S.-Mexico game on this site and elsewhere. I’m sure you’ll see plenty of articles and blog posts about Jurgen Klinsman’s debut, Michael Orozco Fiscal’s return to Philadelphia, and various other big storylines.
So I’m looking for some different angles, and here’s the first one. It’s actually an interview that I’ve wanted to do for quite a while, and now was the perfect time for it.
Pablo Ramirez has been the lead soccer play-by-play announcer for Univision since 2000. The native of Jalisco, Mexico succeeded the legendary Andres Cantor when Cantor left for Telemundo, though he had worked for the network sine the 1994 World Cup.
Given Univision’s broad reach, Ramirez’s goal calls are just as recognizable now to soccer fans these days. If you didn’t hear him at the 2010 World Cup, you probably heard his homage to the Black-Eyed Peas when Teal Bunbury scored on a penalty kick for the U.S. in January of this year.
In addition to calling World Cups and games for the national teams of the U.S. and Mexico, Ramirez has also worked multiple Gold Cups and Copa Americas. So the world’s game has taken him to a lot of places.
But there is one place Ramirez has not been to yet: Philadelphia. That changes this week, as the soccer spotlight shines on Lincoln Financial Field once again.
I talked with Ramirez about Wednesday’s game, the growth of American soccer, and the growth of Univision as a television network.
What do you think of the United States hiring Jurgen Klinsmann?
It was an assumption that many people thought was going to happen. They fell in love with Jurgen Klinsmann five or six years ago. Maybe at that time, they didn’t have the circumstances, maybe they had something with Bradley.
But they were always impressed with Klinsmann. He has always been on the minds of a lot of people at the U.S. Soccer Federation.
It’s good. But the only reason I’m a little worried about this is that maybe Jurgen hasn’t been working anything special with MLS, or minor leagues, or something. He’s not active right now.
Klinsmann has said that one of the things he wants to do is to bring in more creative players to the team, and in particular to get at the Hispanic-American communities in the United States.
What do you think it’s going to take for him to be able to do that? I know how many people watch Mexico’s national team, but it’s not the same amount of attention that the United States national team gets from the Hispanic community.
You can try to play for television, and you can try to play for a section of the people. But you need to try to play for the result, for your federation, for your players and for your country. If you’re trying to play just for TV, or just to get more ratings, it’s going to be very difficult. Maybe it’s a first impression, that Jurgen Klinsmann has tried to show to the public.
But in terms of creative players, they have a lot. I suppose he’s trying to create a new generation, because maybe the next World Cup is going to be the last for Tim Howard, for Clint Dempsey, for Landon Donovan. Now you have to worry to find other players to try to get the new spots in the national team.
Two of the players that Klinsmann has called in for this game, Edgar Castillo and José Francisco Torres, had the choice of playing for the United States or Mexico, and they chose to play for the United States. From everything I’ve seen, there are a lot of young players out there who have similar decisions.
Or perhaps it’s for the United States or El Salvador, or the United States or Honduras as was the case with D.C. United’s Andy Najar. What do you think it would take for soccer in this country to get to a point where more of those players would want to play for the United States?
In Mexico, in Honduras, in El Salvador, everybody wants to play soccer. So everybody tries to get a spot in the national team. In the U.S.A., it’s not the same situation. People play football, basketball, baseball. Maybe there are not a lot of people who are trying to get a spot in the U.S. national team.
But if there are more chances to play in the World Cup, that’s the example for José "El Gringo" Francisco Torres. He played in the last World Cup, in South Africa. In Mexico maybe he would not have had the chance.
I want to ask some questions about Univision’s presentation of soccer. My Spanish isn’t great, but I like to say that all the Spanish I know, I’ve learned from watching soccer on television.
I watch Republica Deportiva on Sunday mornings sometimes, and I’ve noticed something over time. I don’t remember exactly when it started - I think it was maybe in 2002 - that Univision started referring to the U.S. national team as "El equipo de todos." Does it mean something that Univision, with all of the power it has, calls the U.S. team "everybody’s team?"
I’m from Mexico, and in that time I was with Ricardo Mayorga, who’s from Colombia. There are a lot of people from Uruguay, from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras. We work here, we live here.
The U.S. team is named "everyone’s team" because it represents all Hispanics living in this country. Although Hispanics keep strong ties to their home teams, they hold a special place in their hearts for the U.S. team - it is the team of their new home, of the country that has given them new opportunities.
The other reason is that there are a lot of players who were not born in the U.S. who play for the national team. You can find a player from Uruguay, like Fernando Clavijo, who plays for the U.S. Or from Brazil, like Benny Feilhaber. Or from Jamaica. Carlos Bocanegra is from Argentina.
It’s a mixture, I think that’s the correct word, that you can find in the U.S. national team. When I arrived to Univision in 2000, I heard that "el equipo de todos." I don’t know who got the idea, but it’s a good thing.
Univision has so many millions of people who watch the broadcasts of Mexico’s national team. Sometimes they even beat the English-language TV networks’ broadcasts at the same time. Are you surprised by that?
Actually, no. It’s our passion. We live in countries where football is almost a religion, and I suppose that people come here, and they can watch and feel that passion during our broadcasts.
I tried to play soccer, I was a semi-pro in Mexico. Jesús "El Profe" Bracamontes was a professional coach. Football is life for us, and I think people can get that during our broadcasts. I’m not about who’s better, or who has a better production. I just think it’s about the passion, and people catch that.
You were in South Africa last year for the World Cup, and you were there when the United States beat Algeria. Even those of us who don’t speak Spanish so well could see that for you and Jesús, it was a really big moment.
What was it like for you to be there, and see it in person?
For us, it was being part of history. It was being part of a big moment, a big party. It was a very close game, and it was like there was an explosion with the goal. It was dramatic, like a dream for the U.S. They were working hard for so many minutes, and they almost lost, but they finally won.
That was to be part of history. There are a lot of people who sell their car or lease their house, trying to go to the World Cup. And we were there, for the big moment. We tried to get some emotions.
You had another moment that got you some fame, back in January when the U.S. played Chile. The only TV broadcast was on Telefutura, and Teal Bunbury scored a penalty kick. The video of you making the goal call went all over the internet. What was it like for you to see that amount of reaction?
Somebody asked me if I had prepared that. I didn’t know that Bunbury was going to play, and going to score.
My father’s family is a musical family, and I like music. Two or three days before the game, I was listening to the Black-Eyed Peas, that song. When he scored, and he started to dance, that was my first reaction. "I like that Bun-bur-y! I like that Bun-bur-y!"
The next day, Marisabel Muñz from Major League Soccer called me and said, "Hey, you’re a sensation on the Internet!" I asked why, and she sent me the link to a two-minute video that I was on, with replays and my voice. It was a funny thing.
It wasn’t something I prepared for, it was just a reaction.
I play a lot with names. At the Gold Cup, with Eric Lichaj, I said "Lee-high!" in the way they used to say "Yee-haw!" in the old Westerns. I also did some things with Jonathan Bornstein. Just playing with words, nothing special.
As for the game Wednesday between the U.S. and Mexico, Javier "Chicharito" Hernández is not here. Obviously Mexico has a lot of great players, such as Giovanni dos Santos and Gerrardo Torrado, but how big of a star is Chicharito?
He’s a big star right now. He started very well at a young age with Manchester United, which is one of the three best teams in the World. Now we can try to look forward at how long he will go. Because by now, he is a big, big star.
If you remember when Freddy Adu started, we were thinking about him like a rock star. But it didn’t happen. Now Chicharito is in a good way, and he’s becoming a really big star. We need to wait two or three more years to see his development.
What do you make of Mexico’s Under-17 national team winning the world championship? Does this mean that they are going to keep getting even better?
Mexico is always a good team at the youth level. The problem comes when you get the money, and the fame, and the lights, and you’re only 17 years old. Then there are worries about players trying to go to Europe to get more money. But Mexico is always very good at youth tournaments, the Under-17s and Under-20s.
I’m not surprised they won this time. Remember that they were the home team, and there is an advantage in that.
One more question. Do you think that Univision, perhaps because of its soccer broadcasts, can grow its audience among English speakers in the United States?
Yes. We are trying to get different tournaments - for instance, this year we are doing the Gold Cup, the Copa America, the Under-17 World Championship, the Under-20 World Championship and the Women’s World Cup. That’s five tournaments just this summer.
Then we have MLS, the Mexican national team, the U.S. national team, the Mexican League, and the CONCACAF Champions League. We are trying to get different tournaments for a different public, for a different audience. And I suppose that with Univision, Telefutura and Galavision, you can see games that you can’t see on other networks.
We are making our best effort to cover all those audiences. I have heard three or four times that people say, "I’m trying to learn Spanish with your broadcasts." That’s a different responsibility for us.