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Mexico unveil Gerardo Martino as new head coach

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Mexico officially unveiled Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino as their new head coach Monday, as the Argentine coach finally arrived as El Tri’s new boss after months of rumors.

Martino, 56, announced in October that he would be leaving Atlanta United after leading them in their first two years as a franchise in Major League Soccer. He left ATL in the best way possible, delivering MLS Cup in front of a sell-out crowd of over 73,000 fans.

As for his new gig with Mexico, Martino will be working with a team which is undoubtedly the strongest in the CONCACAF region and is coming off the back of a very decent 2018 World Cup where they got out of a ‘Group of Death’ then pushed Brazil hard but fell in the Round of 16 for the seventh-straight tournament.

Juan Carlos Osorio’s rollercoaster reign ended with that defeat, and El Tri have not had a permanent coach for the past six months with Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti in charge on an interim basis.

Speaking about his appointment, Tata revealed he has a strong squad which can already implement his philosophy and he intends to spend the next few months visiting his players in Mexico and also connecting with many of the El Tri players based in Europe.

“I am thankful for this new project here with the Mexican federation. I am grateful for doing this process respectfully between Atlanta and Mexico. I thank you for being patient… What interests me most is that the team has a strong playing style. That’ll get us closer to where we want to be,” Martino said. “First thing is to visit clubs in Mexico, to connect with the coaches at the clubs… If there is time then we’ll go to Europe. If there isn’t we’ll look to talk to all of the players.”

There is no doubt that Martino was worth the wait, as the former Paraguay and Argentina manager has a wealth of experience at international level, and his resume at Barcelona and top South American clubs such as Newell’s Old Boys speaks for itself.

What he achieved at Atlanta United saw his stock rise rapidly after the tough time he endured at Barca, and the fact he is coaching Mexico instead of the U.S. men’s national team will be tough pill for a lot of USMNT fans to swallow.

Martino was reportedly ruled out of the running to become the new USMNT head coach due to the language barrier, as he does not speak English fluently.

His first two games in charge of Mexico will be on U.S. soil in March, with El Tri playing against Chile in San Diego, CA and Paraguay in Santa Clara, CA. His next big test is the 2019 Gold Cup across the U.S. this summer, as Mexico are the red-hot favorites.

Martino will soon find out that the extreme pressure of Mexico’s fans mean that he will have to deliver success right away.

Atlanta’s MLS Cup celebration is joyous, but short-lived

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ATLANTA (AP) Despite cold, drizzly weather, thousands of fans turned out Monday for a downtown parade and rally to celebrate the city’s first championship since 1995.

The revelry won’t last long.

Atlanta United must find a coach to replace Tata Martino and likely cope with the loss of star midfielder Miguel Almiron before returning to the field in February for their first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“That puzzle exists every year in professional sports,” team owner Arthur Blank told reporters after the rally outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “The great organizations, the great teams find a way to respond to that. What we’ve built here is a sustainable, winning organization, so we’re looking forward to being back – not just competing, but being back on this stage a year from now.”

In just its second season since entering Major League Soccer as an expansion team, Atlanta United won the championship with a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers on Saturday night.

Less than 48 hours later, the city toasted its first championship team since the Atlanta Braves won the 1995 World Series .

“We did it! We broke the curse!” said rapper Archie Eversole, whose song “We Ready” became a popular theme at home games.

The players rode a double-decker bus on the 1-mile-long parade route, holding up the cup for the cheering crowd as they passed the Georgia Aquarium, College Football Hall of Fame and Centennial Olympic Park. Blank, team president Darren Eales and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms revved up fans in convertibles at the front of the procession.

The parade ended in a grassy lot alongside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where some 15,000 turned out for a lunchtime rally also attended by outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal.

“We’ve won a championship in only our second season,” Eales said. “That’s pretty incredible.”

In probably his last appearance with the team, Martino hammered in the golden spike while the crowd roared. The Argentine coach is reportedly headed to Mexico to become that country’s national team coach.

“Coach Martino is one of the great coaches in the world,” Blank said. “He saw the vision, he bought into the vision, and he executed the vision with this incredible group of players.”

That group will be changing.

Atlanta already made several moves, announcing the day after the game that it declined contract options on five players including captain Michael Parkhurst, though the 34-year-old defender is expected to return in 2019. The team said it has already begun negotiations on a new contract with Parkhurst, who finally won the MLS Cup after playing on four runner-up teams.

The biggest moves are still to come. Almiron, who was runner-up in the MVP voting to teammate Josef Martinez, is expected to follow through on his desired move to Europe, which should bring United a hefty transfer fee.

The team seems to have already lined up a replacement.

Argentine star Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, who scored the clinching goal in River Plate’s victory Sunday in the Copa Libertadores final, announced on the field right after the game that he’s leaving the team. He told media in his native country that he’s headed to Atlanta United.

Martinez, who scored a record 31 goals during the regular season and added four more in the playoffs , appears likely to remain with the team for at least one more season. He’s had much more success in MLS than his previous stint in Italy’s Serie A.

“I am going to be here as long as they want me,” Martinez said after winning the MVP award. “I feel like I’m at home.”

Atlanta United could target another South American coach as Martino’s replacement, with an eye toward maintaining a pipeline to promising young players from that continent. As Almiron has shown, the MLS can provide a useful steppingstone to those wishing to further their careers in Europe.

Among those mentioned as candidates: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who previously won the MLS Cup as a player in Columbus and coached Boca Juniors to the Copa Libertadores final this season; along with Marcelo Bielsa, who has close ties to Martino and is currently managing Leeds in England’s second division.

Atlanta United will have an additional priority in 2019 after qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, the continent’s top club competition. They will face Herediano in the two-legged opening round, with the first game to be played in Costa Rica in a Feb. 19-21 window before the second leg at Mercedes-Benz Stadium a week later.

That 16-team competition, which runs through the first of May, figures to be the team’s top priority in the early part of the 2019 season. The only U.S. team to win the title was D.C. United two decades ago.

But Atlanta is intent on defending its MLS championship, as well.

“It’s an honor to represent this city,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan, saluting the fans who broke numerous attendance records during the club’s first two seasons. “We’ll be back next year to defend this cup.”

FOLLOW LIVE – ATLUTD host Timbers in MLS Cup 2018

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Atlanta United needed just two years to reach its first MLS Cup upon the league in 2017, and they’ll host Saturday’s final against the Portland Timbers to boot.

[ FOLLOW: Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers — MLS Cup 2018 ]

It’ll be the final game in which Gerardo “Tata” Martino picks the Five Stripes team and patrols the sidelines at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as he’s set to depart the club at the end of the season (reportedly set to take the Mexican national team job). It could very well be another final outing for one of — or two of — Atlanta’s superstars on the field: Miguel Almiron is expected to move to Europe during the January transfer window, and Josef Martinez has long been linked with a move back across the Atlantic Ocean.

With Martino leaving and two of his South American dynamos perhaps joining him, Saturday could very well signal the end of the first era of Atlanta United, giving way to the next head coach and (presumably) another wave of up-and-coming stars.

[ MORE: Groups for 2019 Women’s World Cup confirmed ]

Portland, on the other hand, is the team that wasn’t “supposed” to be left standing in the Western Conference. Having already knocked off the West’s first- and second-seeded sides in the playoffs — after surviving the knockout round on the road — Giovanni Savarese’s side has proven itself as a formidable, unrelenting foe on the 2018 season’s final day.

Hit the link above to follow along through Saturday’s final, and check back on PST for full coverage and analysis after the game.

LINEUPS

Atlanta: Guzan; Escobar, Parkhurst, Gonzalez-Pirez, Garza; Nagbe, Larentowicz, Remedi; Almiron, Gressel, Martinez | Subs: Clark, Tuiloma, Powell, Olum, Flores, Asprilla, Melano

Portland: Attinella; Valentin, Mabiala, Ridgewell, Villafaña; Chara, Guzman; Polo, Valeri, Blanco; Ebobisse | Subs: Kann, Robinson, McCann, Kratz, Villalba, Barco, Vazquez

Reports say Martino is still Mexico’s man; Did Garber confirm it?

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It’s been no secret that Gerardo “Tata” Martino was probably going to leave Atlanta United after his second season in charge of the bunch.

So reports that he’s taking the Mexico men’s national team job are nothing new, but leave it to — Ives Galarcep’s words not mine — MLS commissioner Don Garber to basically confirm his hire.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings | 3 things ]

Assuming it all comes true, this is going to be the subplot of the USMNT-Mexico rivalry for some time. There’s little doubt Mexican is knee-deep in its golden generation compared to the USMNT, which is just reaching the potential of it with Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams.

After these quotes, it’s very difficult to believe Mexico’s next coach will anyone but the successful Argentina, Barcelona, and Paraguay boss.

2018 MLS awards: Tata wins Coach, Zlatan wins Goal

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Major League Soccer announced a number of its regular season awards on Tuesday, and a pair of the league’s international stars were at the forefront of the achievements.

Outgoing Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino won Coach of the Year, while LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic won the league’s Goal of the Year award for his incredible long-distance strike against rivals LAFC back in late March.

Martino, in his second year in charge as Atlanta United’s first and only manager in franchise history, came just a point from securing the team’s first Supporters’ Shield in just its second year of existence. The club just won its first playoff series in club history as well, beating NYFC over two legs to reach the Eastern Conference finals. The Argentine has announced he will depart the club at the end of the season, with reports pinning him to a job with the Mexican national team.

LAFC manager Bob Bradley finished second in the Coach of the Year award, having led the first-year club to a third-place finish in the Western Conference and a playoff spot before being dumped by Real Salt Lake in the knockout round.

Ibrahimovic won Goal of the Year with his audacious half-volleyed strike from almost 40 yards out that chipped LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller and leveled the score. It was Ibrahimovic’s first MLS goal after moving to the Galaxy in the offseason from Manchester United. He scored again that match, a stoppage-time winner in the brand new derby.

Other awards were handed out during the hour-long awards ceremony on Periscope, including the Save of the Year, which went to Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei for ranging across his net to stop Colorado Rapids forward Shkelzen Gashi.

Skill Play of the Year went to Portland’s Samuel Armenteros for an incredible dink past Colorado defender Danny Wilson just before scoring the game’s first goal. The Celebration of the Year went to Bradley Wright-Phillips for the aftermath of his 100th MLS goal where he proceeded to remove his jersey to reveal another underneath with the number 100.