MARIETTA, Ga. – Make no mistake, Atlanta United’s Gerardo “Tata” Martino has seen plenty and won plenty in his 40 years in the game of soccer. It’s just that recently, he’s found silverware hard to come by.
Outside of the 2013 Spanish Super Cup – the traditional curtain-raiser ahead of the league season – Martino’s sides have not won a final they’ve contested since he clinched the 2006 Paraguayan title with Libertad.
Many of the subsequent finals disappointments have been on some of the biggest stages in world soccer as well. First came his stint with Paraguay, where he led the unfancied Albirroja to the 2011 Copa América final, only to fall to a Luis Suarez-led Uruguay side. Then there was his time at Barcelona, where he lifted the Super Cup to start his time in Spain, only to see his side lose the league title on the final day of the season and drop the Copa del Rey final to arch-rivals Real Madrid.
Perhaps even more heartbreaking would be his time in charge of his native Argentina. He led the Albiceleste to the Copa América final twice in two years, only to see his charges fall on penalty kicks to Chile in 2015 and 2016 despite dominating long stretches of both matches.
“I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a lot of finals. In my case, I’ve had more disappointments than triumphs in those finals, but making it to all those finals has always been an accomplishment for me,” Martino said at a Thursday press conference. “Now, at this stage of my career, I’m 56 and I started playing soccer when I was 16, so that’s 40 years that I’ve been involved in the game, and these are always important moments.”
As Martino indicated, he’s been part of plenty of big moments during his four decades in the game, win or lose. And though things haven’t gone his way in big games recently, it’s not that titles have eluded him. As a player, he claimed three Argentine league crowns – including one that was decided in a two-legged final – with Newell’s Old Boys, the same Argentine club he coached to a league title (no final required) in 2013.
Now, he’ll look to create another memorable moment with Atlanta United when they face the Portland Timbers in Saturday’s 2018 MLS Cup (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMás; TSN, TVAS).
“There are some differences in all of those finals, and some similarities," Martino said. "But for us the most important thing is that we’re very excited to play this game in front of our home fans with all the emotion and hype leading into this match. We view it as our reward for this season, but also these two years of hard work.”
And just how does that hype compare to some of the other big moments in his career?
“Just look at all the people here,” Martino said, grinning and signaling towards the throng of assembled media. “I’m not sure if this is the MLS final or the Super Bowl.”