Meza embracing Atlanta United, MLS

Fernando Meza has set several goals for himself as a player at Atlanta United.

He wants to win a starting spot.

He wants to win games.

He wants to win titles.

But there was one goal he mentioned twice, first at the beginning of his first interview as the club’s recent signing, and again at the end: learn English within six months.

“I think it’s important for players who come into the league to adapt to the country and the language that’s spoken,” he said in Spanish through an interpreter. “That’s why I’ve given myself this goal of six months. It will be a challenge.”

Meza even made the four journalists present promise that six months from now they must ask him a question in Spanish that he will answer in English.

Challenge accepted: Tu juegas futbol?

Meza was funny, curious and forthcoming about his move from Necaxa to Tijuana for about 12 hours, a move that’s still as big a mystery to him as it remains to everyone else, and then to Atlanta United. He said he watches a lot of soccer, so he was familiar with the Five Stripes.

When his agent told him about the possibility of a transfer, he spoke to some of his fellow Argentines by phone who told him about the fans, the stadium and the training ground. He was all in.

“I had no hesitation,” he said.

One challenge that Meza politely parried was any comparisons to the player he was brought in to replace: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, whose sale to Tijuana in Mexico was announced shortly before the purchase of Meza was announced last week.

The similarities are curious because Gonzalez Pirez is also an Argentine, also worked hard to learn English very quickly, and was very forthcoming in interviews.

With Gonzalez Pirez as a key player on the back line for the past three seasons, Atlanta United allowed 127 goals in 102 games while winning the MLS Cup in 2018, and the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup in 2019.

“He’s a great centerback,” Meza said. “He was very loved by his teammates. You can’t compare players because he has his ways of doing things and I have mine. We have different characteristics. He was someone who was very important here and left his mark on the club. He deserved everything he got here.

“I’m going to come in and in my own way prove to the coaching staff that I can perform.”

Meza said he has spoken with manager Frank de Boer about his preferred playing style and what is expected. He described it as pleasant.

De Boer didn’t mind comparing Meza with Gonzalez Pirez on Monday.

“Very aggressive like Leandro,” de Boer said. “He likes to also take risks with the ball. I love his attitude. We wanted to have a leader in that position because Leandro is gone.”

Meza said becoming a leader will take time.

“It’s something you have to win over,” he said. “It doesn’t come right away. I know that I’m joining a very good team.”

Meza prefers to play centerback, but was also used as a right back, defensive midfielder or midfielder in Mexico.

Back to challenges, Meza said he would have loved to play against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but he left the L.A. Galaxy and is now with A.C. Milan.

Looking across town, Meza said playing against LAFC’s Carlos Vela is something he’s looking forward to. He played with Vela’s brother, Alejandro, at Necaxa.

As for stadiums he’s looking forward to seeing, Meza offered more challenges, “It’s a very big country, and it’s a new experience for me. As a football player, you dream to get know as many stadiums and place as you can so that at the end of your career you can say I played and I played here.”