When I began tinkering with the idea of a series on important moments in Atlanta United’s history there was one voice that I hoped to include, but wasn’t at all confident of his participation.
I’ll wait for a second while you think about who.
Gerardo Martino, the team’s first manager who led it to an MLS Cup in 2018.
Through a mutual, patient and gracious friend, I’ve been able to communicate a bit with Martino, but it’s mostly been short messages.
I think Martino and I got along fairly well during his time, from his introductory news conference at a packed World of Coca-Cola conference room, to his exit Q&A when he was headed to the airport to fly home to Argentina for the first time in more than a year to our last face-to-face when he was in town promoting a game featuring Mexico, the team he now manages.
Martino was always patient with me, especially when he would make a point that I disagreed with and he could tell that I disagreed with him. He would typically encourage us to converse about our differences. He in Spanish. Me in English, with interpreter Justin Veldhuis in the middle doing his professional best to get our points across.
Typically our disagreements would be about the offense and goal-scoring chances.
His view always seemed to be rosier than mine, even going so far one time as to rattle off the seven chances he said his team had during a game. I didn’t remember it that way.
He went through each.
Of course, he was correct.
I can never remember him raising his voice to me or anyone else who covered the team.
I can never remember him being demeaning.
I can never remember him being patronizing.
Really, current manager Frank de Boer treats us the same way.
But back to Martino.
Wearing his self-described Batman sweater over his shoulders in a nod to I-don’t-know-what-type of fashion, he always reminded me of an old soul, a grandfather (which he recently became) who wanted to impart his wisdom.
I think his Atlanta United players may have felt similarly.
I think our mutual respect may have been cemented in a few moments.
The first came during a training camp in Florida when he discussed with me mate, the drink that his South American players love. It was a nice conversation spent walking around the pitches on a warm morning in central Florida.
The second came after a game when I chose to wait until after a news conference, when there were no cameras or bright lights, to ask him about situation involving the team. I think he appreciated being able to talk one-or-one in a non-gotcha moment.
And then, in a story I’ve told a few times but will do so again, but it’s one I’ll always remember, he held up a postgame news conference — one in which every second should have been spent talking about his team advancing to the MLS Cup — to wait for me to arrive so that he could wish me a happy birthday on a cold, cold night in New Jersey.
So, having said that, I reached out more than a week ago through the mutual friend to see if Martino would be interested in sharing any memories of the topics I was going to pursue.
I didn’t hear anything for a bit, which was expected.
And then a message, which I’ll paraphrase: He’s asking questions. You may get lucky.
And then, last night, this message about the first game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium arrived, which has been transcribed:
“What I remember most from that first game was how beautiful the stadium looked because even though we had done a few training sessions there beforehand, not many, to see it full of people in red, black and gold, and to have the chance to coach in that first game in such a beautiful stadium like Mercedes-Benz Stadium filled me with satisfaction. And also a little nervousness to know how the first game would go because the first game for a team that was relatively new and the first game in a new stadium creates a link, and it’s always important that that first link be with a team victory.
“To have beaten Dallas well, 3-0, that first goal from Leandro, and the celebration of the fans, it’s very difficult to forget that first relationship that we all had, not just myself, with the beautiful Mercedes-Benz Stadium.”
I’ve been told that he is going to offer one more for another in the series.
Again, I’ll leave it to you to guess.
In addition to one who contributed to last week’s initial entry, there are other former players that I’ve reached out to that I hope will contribute.
I may have used all my luck though getting that from Martino.
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