Q&A: Mexico’s Gerardo Martino ahead of friendly’s game against Paraguay

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Beloved by most soccer supporters in Atlanta, Gerardo Martino once again will be on the sidelines at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when he leads Mexico against Paraguay in a friendly Wednesday. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

Martino guided Atlanta United to an MLS Cup in 2018 before he resigned. He accepted the coaching position with Mexico soon thereafter and led the team to qualification for the World Cup, which will be played in Qatar, starting in November.

Martino spent a few minutes two weeks ago answering questions about Wednesday’s match, the World Cup coming to Atlanta and ...

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the game against Paraguay?

A: Fundamentally, we’re looking to fill a World Cup roster. We expect that in the game in Atlanta, we’ll call up players from Liga MX, but we know that about 50% of our final roster is going to be made up of players from Mexico. So this is going to be an important opportunity.

Q: What do you think of Mexico’s group in the World Cup (it includes Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia)?

A: It just depends on how you look at your team’s group. I mean, France probably looks at their group differently than other national teams.

We know that we have a complex group, and we know that our first game is going to be fundamental.

Q: Do you still pay attention to MLS? How would you describe its growth since you started coaching Atlanta United in 2017?

A: Always. On the soccer side, I don’t think I’d be the appropriate person to comment because when I watch I don’t watch it at that level to be able to comment on it. But it does impress me (the) vast amount of MLS players ending up in Europe. Clearly, that translates to the performance of the U.S. national team.

Q: How is it impacting your team? Because the quality of the league is improving, are they perhaps earning more of a chance to be named to the national team for important games?

A: Any improvement or growth that we have in the region is very good. Evidently, MLS is bringing a lot of important players, top players to the league, but we see this happening also in the Mexican League.

And in this last transfer window we saw that many of the players that are on the national team have been transferred to Europe. And that’s very good for us also.

Q: As you know, (for) the 2026 World Cup, Atlanta is going to be one of the host sites. Atlanta United was credited with helping the city get whatever it’s going to get in the tournament. Do you have a sense of pride for the results that you’re able to produce, to build a fan base, to help the city land a site?

A: We felt a lot of pride to all of us who were involved in building Atlanta United.

And we have to remember that tremendous fan base in Atlanta was there from the second the team was formed, even when the team was announced. And winning a championship sort of solidified that enthusiasm for soccer in Atlanta for the team and for the market. But it was always there from the beginning.

Q: The winning and the exciting play were important factors, too.

A: I just hope the city of Atlanta will invite me for a game.

Q: What do you think about Darren Eales leaving as president of Atlanta United to become CEO of Newcastle in England’s Premier League?

A: I’m happy for him. I know that it was always a dream of his to be an executive at a big team in the Premier League. So I know that he must be very pleased.

Q: And as someone who’s worked in some high-pressure places such as Barcelona and manager of Argentina’s national team, and now Mexico’s, do you have any advice for him?

A: He’s a fundamentally smart and capable guy, and he built the franchise from the ground up. With his record, and with the new owners, I don’t think he’ll have issues.

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

Aug. 6 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 1

Aug. 13 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

Aug. 17 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, Columbus 2

Aug. 28 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

Aug. 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas