Telemundo’s Spanish-language coverage of the ongoing 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is notable on several fronts. They have 33 of the 64 matches on Telemundo, the most-ever on a U.S. broadcast network, and then 31 on Universo, with all matches also streaming on Peacock and with the newly-announced Telemundo Deportes free advertising-supported streaming television (FAST) service helping to supplement their shoulder programming. And beyond that, they have a commentary team with the most women ever in Spanish-language U.S. media history. Part of that commentary team is coach and analyst Natalia Astrain, who spoke to AA ahead of the tournament about what working on this means to her.
Astrain is a former head coach with the U.S. women’s national U-17 team, and has held a variety of coaching jobs in both the U.S. and her native Spain. That includes work with the women’s teams at FC Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Club Damm, and Club Levante Las Planas in Spain, and work with the KC Current, FC Bay Area, Rise SC, and the Houston Dash in America.
Astrain has also done a lot of broadcasting work, including with FC Barcelona TV and Mundo Deportivo in Spain. And she’s been involved with Telemundo/Universo soccer coverage since the 2021 Olympics. She also worked with them on the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar last fall, where she and Costa Rica women’s national team head coach Amelia Valverde made history as the first two female analysts on a men’s World Cup match (calling Morocco-Portugal alongside Copan Alvarez).
For this tournament, Astrain is working alongside famed commentators Andres Cantor and Manuel Sol (seen at center and right respectively above with her, in a photo she posted to Twitter from the tournament-opening match between New Zealand and Norway). She told AA she’s thrilled to get to work on Telemundo coverage again. And she said she’s particularly excited to get to call a Women’s World Cup.
“The feeling is amazing. I was working with Telemundo for the Olympics, and then also for the men’s World Cup. Which was historic, right? With Amelia, we were there, we had this opportunity to comment on these games, important games, and be around impressive people. And now, the opportunity to commentate the Women’s World Cup is like a dream. That I can analyze and commentate for women is something special. It’s something that I live for this, it’s my dream, I work in this…I love this.”
She said last year’s World Cup was a great experience, and she loved having the opportunity to work on those broadcasts.
“When Telemundo mentioned it, I was like ‘I can’t believe this!’ You feel like men’s soccer always will be explained for men. When they provide you the opportunity as a female coach, it’s like, ‘Well, this is amazing.’ It’s very beautiful, and at the same time, breaking a lot of stereotypes, that they want a female coach to analyze the game.”
“And it was in Qatar as well, a country where there’s a lot of controversial things about women. And I was like ‘Okay, I think it will be really interesting.’ And I was able go to Qatar, and commentate games in the men’s World Cup, and break a lot of stereotypes.”
Astrain said getting to work with Valverde on that one match was particularly special.
“It was the next step. I was able to be part of this big team with Telemundo in Qatar, and they mentioned ‘Oh, you have this assignment with Amelia for this game.’ And I thought ‘This is amazing. We need to take this opportunity to show the people that soccer is universal.’ It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman, you can play, and of course you can explain.”
“And I think that both Amelia and I have really beautiful energy; we both have a responsibility, but at the same time, I feel like we own it and are able to explain the game. And we called that game with Copan [Alvarez], who is an amazing journalist and he explains the game; he made the two of us feel absolutely comfortable. I feel like it was a really good combination between Copan, Amelia, and I.”
Astrain said she doesn’t approach the game particularly differently when calling men’s or women’s matches.
“No, for me, it’s soccer. And this is the important thing I would love to be able to make people feel when I’m calling the games. People assume “Oh, this is a female, it will be different.” No! This is about soccer. It will be different within people with different experiences, but not about gender. And this is what I try to explain to people when I’m on TV.”
She said she likes bringing her tactical knowledge from her coaching background into her match analysis, but tries to keep it approachable for those newer to soccer as well.
“For me, the part of soccer about the tactical component is the part I enjoy the most, the part I like. And when I’m on TV, it’s this opportunity to try to explain to people this part, the tactical component. But it’s trying to connect, trying to explain what I see in a way that people enjoy.”
“I like to, when I receive texts or I see people discussing my work, see the background of the people; it can be people who have a lot of knowledge of soccer, or people who just turn on the TV and only want to watch the game. It’s being able to connect with the common denominator. For me, the most important thing is that my level of explanation of the tactical component is able to connect with everybody. And I really enjoy that.”
She said it’s also important to get across the energy and the emotion of the stadium.
“I really enjoy, it’s like a musical experience to be in the stadium and have this energy and see the game. And it’s like ‘Okay, let’s try to explain and have the people feel the energy as well.’ It’s not only soccer, it’s not only ‘They play 4-4-2,’ it’s ‘Let’s try to have the people feel the energy and enjoy the same way that I am enjoying it.'”
Women’s sports in the U.S. seems to be having a bit of a moment right now, with big ratings and attention for NCAA women’s basketball, NCAA women’s softball, the WNBA, the NWSL, NCAA women’s gymnastics, and more. As with some other top female athletes born outside the U.S., though, Astrain said today’s progress is remarkable, but she was impressed with the attention women’s sports got in the U.S. even while she was growing up, and hoped to live and work there in sports some day.
“It was my dream when I was growing up,” she said. “I always explain the situation about Mia Hamm being in the  commercial with Michael Jordan. And I was living in Spain, growing up in Spain, and I was like ‘I need to go there! These Americans are amazing, and they really value their women in soccer.'”
Astrain said she thinks that’s only improved, and the amount of attention around women’s sports in the U.S. at the moment is great to see. And she thinks that’s particularly notable with the USWNT as they search for their fifth overall and third consecutive Women’s World Cup title.
“I feel like this is something that’s special, really special. And I really like and enjoy working in the U.S., because I feel like there’s a lot of support for women’s sports. And I love soccer, and this is the best team in the world. They are the four-time winners, and I feel like they have the best team. And I can tell that everyone feels really proud of the team.”
Astrain said she doesn’t expect it to be an easy time for the U.S. in this tournament, though. She said other teams have gotten better, and the expansion of the tournament from 24 to 32 teams also shows women’s soccer’s growth.
“I feel like this tournament will be the most competitive in the history of the Women’s World Cup. …I feel like it will be difficult for the U.S., it may not be very easy. And I am happy that the level of soccer around the world is improving and the distance between countries is shorter. I feel like people will enjoy the most competitive games. And in addition, there are more teams: there are new teams that this is the first time that they will compete. And I feel like it will be really interesting to see what happens. The games and the competition will be very tight.”
Astrain’s next assignment is calling Italy-Argentina at 2 a.m. ET on Monday, alongside Cantor and Sol. That match will air on Telemundo and Peacock. The full Telemundo broadcast schedule can be seen in a press release PDF here.
[Image from Natalia Astrain on Twitter]