Tata Martino hails Galaxy's Uriel Antuna for hat-trick performance vs Cuba

Uriel Antuna - Mexico - celebration - June 15, 2019

PASADENA, Calif. – Uriel Antuna was asked how he felt as he ran from the Rose Bowl turf to Mexico's locker room after a dream Gold Cup debut for El Tri.

“I feel,” he replied, “perfect.”

The LA Galaxy winger, a late injury addition to Mexico's Concacaf Gold Cup roster, scored just 1 minute, 57 seconds into a 7-0 romp over Cuba in the second game of the tournament-opening doubleheader. He then netted two more goals and assisted a fourth to complete a spectacular and unexpected evening.

A hugely pro-Mexico crowd of 65,527 fêted the 21-year-old attacker, who had made El Tri head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino's preliminary roster for the tournament, wasn't initially chosen for the 23-man group, then was officially added on Thursday after right back Jorge Sanchez was injured in last weekend's friendly against Ecuador.

Martino included Antuna in the starting XI for the Group A clash, and he paid quick and deep dividends.

“I am very happy with the opportunity that coach Martino is giving me,” Antuna said in a Spanish-language interview with Concacaf after the match. “I am happy to be here. I will always give my all at every national team level I have had the opportunity to play in.

“I am very happy I was able to score, but the team played a great game, so I am very happy to be here.”

Mexican officials did not make Antuna available to the media, but he told CONCACAF that “it was always a dream for me as a small child to play [in the Gold Cup]. From the moment the list was announced, I made it my objective to be here, and now I have the opportunity, and thanks to God I am able to take advantage of this opportunity.”

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Antuna provided the early lead on a rebound, made it 4-0 in the 44th minute after a defender turned aside a feed into the goalmouth, then tallied the finale in the 80th minute, also on a rebound. He also assisted Alexis Vega's 74th-minute goal.

“He took advantage of the opportunities he had tonight,” Martino, who last year guided Atlanta United to the MLS Cup title, said in Spanish during his postgame news conference. “He was focused for 90 minutes, and he had an excellent attitude. He gave a very good showing.”

Martino rewarded Antuna, who grew up near Torreon and developed in Santos Laguna's system, for his fine play with the Galaxy, the club which acquired him this season on loan from Manchester City. Antuna has scored two goals – in a win over Real Salt Lake and a loss to the New York Red Bulls – and assisted two more for LA and made a huge impression playing up top in place of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a 3-2 victory over Minnesota United in mid-March.

Playing his first Gold Cup match at the Rose Bowl, about 25 miles north of Dignity Health Sports Park, was part of the thrill.

“It’s a very special feeling [to play for my national team in Los Angeles],” he said. “Ever since I came to Los Angeles, the people have treated me very well, the fans have been amazing, and I have felt at home ever since I first came here.”

Martino said he was likely to keep the same lineup against Canada, which opened the doubleheader with a 4-0 rout of Martinique, on Wednesday in Denver. He also looked to downplay Antuna's achievement somewhat.

Asked what his advice for Antuna would be after so explosive a debut, the Argentine coach said it was important that he not become “disoriented” by praise.

“I would tell him don't listen too much [to the accolades], don't go on social media,” Martino said. “It's nothing more than a good night.”

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