Tata Martino and Gregg Berhalter are set to square off again Sunday, this time on a grander stage than their previous meetings in MLS.
Martino, the Mexico coach who previously led Atlanta United, holds a 4-1 advantage over Berhalter, the U.S. coach who coached the Columbus Crew, in previous meetings. That one win for Berhalter, however, was significant, with current U.S. goalkeeper Zach Steffen helping the Crew win a shootout after a 0-0 draw that put them into the next round of the 2017 playoffs at Atlanta United's expense.
Despite the history, there appears to be no animosity between the two coaches, who will lead their respective national teams into the Gold Cup final at Soldier Field on Sunday night. In fact, there exists a mutual admiration between the two men.
"I have a lot of respect for the person and manager. I think he’s among the best coaches I faced in MLS. Evidentially, the football he practices needs time. I think that’s what he had in the friendlies," Martino said before adding, "It’s not easy the way Gregg wants his team to play."
Berhalter also highlighted Martino's human side and complimented the Argentine's playing style.
"I really like him as a coach. I think he’s, first of all, a very nice person, a very good person," Berhalter said. "Also, the way his teams play, he’s very clear, very specific. He gets them to compete, there’s a very certain, specific intensity level that he gets with his teams.
"I really like the offensive transition that they perform. I really like the defensive pressing that they do. There’s nice interchanging movement on the wings - they get three players on the wings and that really create problems for each opponent. Overall, I have a lot of respect for him. His Atlanta teams really performed well. They had some good talent, and I’m looking forward to the match tomorrow."
Obviously, both coaches know each other well and Berhalter said he and his staff have watched every match of the Martino era as they've kept an eye on the regional rival's progress and later jumped into scouting the final.
When asked how he stacked up and how long he'd been watching Berhalter's side, Martino quipped, "since the manager was in Columbus."
Both managers took over their teams in January, but Martino was not a candidate for the U.S. job. General Manager Earnie Stewart said during the coaching search that the Americans' coach needed to be fluent in English. Despite being overlooked, Martino said he has no desire to send a message to the U.S. Federation with Sunday's match.
"I think is that the United States is in very good hands. Gregg is coaching the United States national team, I’m managing Mexico’s national team," the 56-year-old said. "Tomorrow there’s no lesson of any type. We’re two managers, the teams in front of us are in front of us and one will go out happy and the other sad."
We will find out who is who Sunday, with kickoff set for 9 p.m. ET.