There’s a saying in Mexican football, Herculez Gomez once told me, that goes, “Hasta en las canicas quieren ganar.”
Even in marbles, they want to win.
It’s stuck with me. Through every Concacaf Champions League disappointment. Through Leagues Cup. And through Wednesday night’s Campeones Cup. For the first time, it felt like the MLS team cared about the game of marbles as much as the Liga MX team. For the first time, it felt like the MLS team needed to win as badly. For the first time, it felt like the MLS team EXPECTED to win.
When Pity Martinez told the press on Monday, “We are going to beat them,” I felt my heart race. It felt like one of those moments.
Screw humility. Screw hedging your bets. Put your reputation on the line. Put the potential for public humiliation on the line. Put your heart and soul on the line. Play the game like you don’t have any other option but to win.
That’s what we saw from Atlanta United. Josef Martinez looked like he couldn’t have cared less about the gold jerseys across from him. Pity Martinez looked like he was having more fun than he had all year. Darlington Nagbe, Julian Gressel, and Jeff Larentowicz looked in their element. They ROSE.
It’s a bad, overused sports cliche to talk about players “wanting it more.” Wanting to win doesn’t mean you will win. But at least it gives you a chance. It gives you the confidence to help your muscle memory fire down the right networks. If you’ve watched enough Liga MX vs. MLS matchups over the years, you know MLS teams haven’t always given themselves that chance. They’ve started from a deficit.
Toronto FC in the 2018 Concacaf Champions League matched Liga MX teams in swagger. Wednesday night’s Campeones Cup felt like the first time the MLS team had MORE swagger.
If you want to be a big club — the type of club Atlanta United and its fans want to, claim to be — you need to win every single competition you’re in. That’s the expectation at Real Madrid and Barcelona and Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Super clubs don’t settle for anything less than trophies.
Concacaf Champions League this year was a failure for Atlanta. If you want to be giants, you always have to accept the responsibility.
But Wednesday night, Atlanta stepped up in every way. Their result wasn’t a surprise or an overachievement. Two good teams played and Atlanta were better. It was job done for Atlanta. Clubs that win trophies, win trophies. Expectation, pressure, confidence, focus, execution. It all works together.
I find their swagger to be annoying at times. But the truth is, I love it. Champions have swagger and don’t care about what the pedestrians think. Champions win.
Marbles. Soccer. Whatever.