Atlanta’s Tata Martino: US Soccer must focus on player development – MLSsoccer.com

Following Bruce Arena’s resignation as US men’s national team manager in the wake of the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the World Cup earlier this month, the rumor mill has churned out the names of several managers who might take over the position.

One name that’s emerged repeatedly among the soccer punditocracy? Atlanta United manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino.

He’s certainly got the resume to take charge of the USMNT. The 54-year-old has been wildly successful leading Atlanta in their expansion season, and has experience managing the Paraguayan and Argentine national teams.

It doesn’t seem like he’ll be leaving Atlanta anytime soon, however.

But that doesn’t mean Martino hasn’t considered the future of US Soccer. Following Atlanta’s training session on Friday, the Argentine manager shared his thoughts on what the country’s soccer leadership needs to focus on moving forward.

“Develop young players,” Martino said through a translator. “There needs to be a bigger demand in terms of preparation. I think the academies have to have a higher demand of how they prepare players.”

Atlanta United is doing its part, having already developed into a local and national academy power in their first year. This summer, their U-15/16 academy team took home the US Soccer Development Academy national championship. The Five Stripes also had three players – first-teamers Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin and academy goalkeeper Justin Garces – play key roles for the US during their recently-completed run at the U-17 World Cup.

Martino, who previously led club teams in Paraguay and Argentina and global powerhouse Barcelona, also believes the most elite American players should test themselves abroad.

“It’s important that this league has grown a lot and continues to grow, but it’s important to incentivize the very best players to someday play in Europe because that’s where the best competition is,” he said.

Martino isn’t the first to make this argument, and he’s not the first to share an opinion on how American soccer should change. Former players, analysts and fans have offered a long list of possible cures in recent weeks: new leadership at the top, less arrogance, more elite youth academies, coaches and scouts and fewer young players being priced out of the game through pay-to-play.

Michael Parkhurst, who has 25 caps for the national team, says he’s “heard a lot of talk about starting over from the top down,” but admits he has “no idea if that’s what needs to happen.” But he does know the choice of the right manager is paramount.

“Hiring the next coach is a huge move,” he said. “Not the interim coach, but making sure the next coach is going to be the coach that brings us to the next World Cup and has the time to put a system in place and put things in place that’s going to help the team. Even if that means a year of struggle, then take the long-term approach and hope that come the next World Cup qualifying cycle, we’re where we need to be.”

Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan played in four of the USMNT’s CONCACAF Hexagonal matches, but didn’t feature in either of their final two qualifiers. He didn’t shy away from putting much of the onus for the US’s failure to qualify on the players themselves.

“Going back to obviously the catastrophe that happened and us not qualifying for the World Cup was a failure on our part to get points, to get results,” he said. “Going forward now there’s quite a bit of time between now and the next, if you will, meaningful game that’s not a friendly. But saying that, every game’s going to be important, whether it be for young players or guys to come in and experience what the national team and playing international football’s all about because it’s different from playing club football.” 

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