Atlanta United player Jurgen Damm spoke to 90min on his journey to Major League Soccer from Liga MX and the innate differences between the two North American leagues as they continue to intensify the rivalry through international tournaments.
During the interview he highlighted the team’s excitement at the arrival of another Mexican addition: former Seattle Sounders assistant and newest head coach Gonzalo Pineda.
How has the arrival of Gonzalo Pineda, the first Mexican head coach at Atlanta United, affected the team?
The truth is I am very happy and excited by this new chapter we are about to begin. He is the first Mexican head coach for Atlanta United, a young mind that does things well. He thrived with the Seattle Sounders as assistant coach and the team took notice. He has a strong mentality with the aspirations to revolutionize. We as a group are very excited, and the point will be to put Atlanta United within the top spots of the conference table.
Do you think with another Mexican addition to the team a greater hispanic culture begins to form within Atlanta United?
Yeah, I think here in Atlanta there is a large Latin population that loves soccer, as opposed to what you hear about the United States that simply focused on NFL, NBA or MLB. Major League Soccer has grown tremendously over the years, we average about 50,000 to 70,000 fans per game. In respect to the developing Mexican culture, I think the arrival of Pineda will likely open the doors for more to come.
As we discuss the bridge between Mexican and American leagues, as a player what are the innate differences of Liga MX and Major League Soccer?
I think MLS is a league that has grown immensely, from the athleticism to the structural aspect of stadiums, training facilities and organization. In many ways, the league is first world. Several renowned managers have begun to mention that the American league is growing in Europe. Major League Soccer has progressed, but until they defeat a Mexican side in the Concacaf Champions League it cannot be said that they have surpassed Liga MX. But they are on a good path. As rivalry between the leagues intensifies the level of competition and skills grows on both ends. The international tournaments will also benefit the Mexican fans in the United States as they hope to watch their teams like America, Tigres or Chivas play in their cities. International tournaments benefit both sides and I would love to see more.
Next week the two leagues are set to face off for the first ever cross border All-Star Game, who do you have as the favorites to win?
Yeah, it’s the first time being played in this format, and I think it gives it a special flavor to be against Mexico. It’s pretty even in my eyes, Mexico is bringing a lot of great players although certain figures will be left out due to injuries, but their selection is grand. MLS also has great players like Vela, Nani, Chicharito and Pulido, and I think maybe in this occasion Major League Soccer will bring it home. Who knows though, nothing is ever fully decided and anything can happen on the pitch.
We know there’s a connection between Atlanta United and the Mexican national team with Tata Martino, have you spoken to him recently about a call up to the team?
I spoke initially with the Profe Tata when I was at Tigres. He came to visit and I had the opportunity to speak with him about several things. The main topic was having regularity with my team. We know he holds a special relationship with Atlanta United, having been crowned champions during his first year with the club. I spoke to him when I arrived about a rented property, but nothing of the international team recently. The most important thing, and something I’ve always thought is that I have to be stable with my team and in good form, scoring goals and recording assists. I think doing everything right will lead to a call up on its own. Being great with my club will allow me to become an option. I want to close this tournament off well because the World Cup is right around the corner and we all want to be the ones playing it.
Lastly, what advice do you have for young Mexican players wanting to come play in the United States?
I’ve heard this question a lot and been asked how I arrived with Atlanta United, but the truth is that the American league holds a lot of complications for players in the way it’s formed. There are a lot of rules to go through, like the salary cap, where you can only pay a certain amount for a player. There is also something called discovery, where each team must list players they found or liked and only those clubs are allowed to begin negotiations. In my case, there were three clubs that presented me with negotiations: Houston Dynamo, Minnesota United and Atlanta United. I spoke with all three teams, but after discussions I realized that Atlanta was the best option due to the great fans, culture, the stadium and city. But only those three clubs were allowed to talk to me, it’s not like international soccer where any club can approach you with a deal. It definitely becomes harder for any player to join the league, but MLS realizes the potential a Mexican player can give a team. They know its a very attractive option. I’ve been here for almost a year and a half and I am very happy here. I’ve learned a lot in this stage of my career and hope to stay for much longer.