GUADALAJARA, Mexico – There is an innate need for humans to compare.
We compare the past and the present mostly with the intention of seeking a better future. In North American soccer we often compare between Mexico and the United States, about how this rivalry affects the future of their national teams and which league is better, Liga MX or MLS.
Atlanta United traveled to Mexico for a 13-day preseason in Guadalajara, where the team will play three scrimmages against Mexican opposition, Celaya FC on Sunday, Feb. 6, and Chivas de Guadalajara and Tepatitlán FC on Sunday, Feb. 13.
The club was greeted Wednesday morning by the US Consul General in Guadalajara, Eliza Al-Laham, and executives from Club Atlas, where the team will train these next two weeks, and during a press conference with club President Darren Eales, VP and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra, and Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda, the comparison between Liga MX and MLS was inevitable.
“It is very difficult to talk about a league that I no longer follow so closely and that is why I cannot compare how things are being handled in Mexican soccer, but what I can say is that MLS is a league that has a plan in the short and long term that is giving it immediate results,” said Pineda during the press conference. "I don't dare make a direct comparison because I haven't followed the insides of Mexican soccer for a long time, and [in Mexico] maybe you feel the same way because you might not fully know what MLS is about, so it's difficult to make such a comparison.”
Since Atlanta United entered MLS in 2017, it has always had a close connection to Mexican soccer, especially in recent years. Atlanta has had Mexicans players like Jürgen Damm and Érick 'Cubo' Torres on its roster, as well as others who have played for Liga MX clubs like Édgar Castillo and Greg Garza. Likewise, other MLS clubs have brought in Mexican stars to their ranks, such as Javier 'Chicharito' Hernández, Carlos Vela, Rodolfo Pizarro, and Carlos Salcedo, among others.
However, in Mexico it seems as if MLS is still not as attractive as Liga MX and is yet to break into the mainstream soccer fan.
“I don't fully know the perception here. I do not think everyone in Mexico thinks that a player goes to MLS just to make money. Many players when they go to the US realize that it is a fairly even and competitive league, with many drawbacks such as weather changes, time changes, long trips, and things that help you evolve as a player and prepare for when you go to Europe,” added Pineda. “You have to speak other languages, live with people from other cultures, have many competitions within a year, understand about marketing, talk to the press and perform both on and off the pitch. There are many nuances that will allow a young player with a sharp vision to look at MLS with good eyes.”
The connection between Atlanta United and Mexican soccer has remained strong with the club's current coaching staff, in part, consisting of three former Mexican league players, Pineda, Diego de la Torre and Eugenio Villazón. In addition, the Head Coach of the Mexican National Team, Gerardo 'Tata' Martino, assumed his current position following two seasons in Atlanta, where he became the first Latin American coach to win MLS Cup.
Recent criticism of Martino for El Tri's performance in the qualifiers for the 2022 Qatar World Cup was also part of the conversation on Wednesday.
“The qualifiers have always been difficult. We shouldn’t speak bout "giants" in [CONCACAF] because not long-ago Mexico went to a playoff match to fight for a ticket to the World Cup," Pineda said when asked if there should be a replacement at the helm of the Mexican National team. "I have a lot of confidence in the coaching staff of the Mexican National Team, I think 'Tata' is an extraordinary and exceptional coach, one of the best in the world. All teams have ups and downs, and in his first year he was very competitive, but right he is going through a performance curve that every team in the world goes through.”
“Little is said about Canada and the growth they’ve had, and I think it’s in part because of MLS and its three powerful Canadian teams and very interesting players. What the US has done is also extraordinary with so many players in Europe, and therein lies the challenge, to be able to compete with that,” he said.
Atlanta United will remain in Guadalajara until February 13 when it returns home to wrap up its preparation for the 2022 MLS season, which kicks off on February 27 when Atlanta takes on Sporting Kansas City at home. Tickets for the inaugural match are on sale now.