One-on-One with Gerardo Torrado: On El Tri, NASL and the path to Europe

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FFT: You were among the first in a wave of young Mexican players who have gone to Europe over the past 20 years. The Mexican national team and the Mexican game have benefited from that migration.

GT: When I was playing in Spain, Rafa Marquez was playing in Barcelona. He opened a huge spot for the Mexican players to be known and to make sports managers turn and look for Mexican players to go and play for good teams.

Rafa Marquez at Barcelona opened a huge spot for the Mexican players to be known and to make managers turn and look for Mexican players to go and play for good teams.

Before that, Mexican players were probably afraid of going [abroad]. Now they understand that the best soccer is played in Europe, and [it's where you go] if you want to improve and you want to become a better soccer player and let the world know there are Mexican players that can be in the top players in the world.

You have to go out and play and not be afraid of that. I think that [so many are able to go to Europe] because the federation is doing a great job with the youth national teams. They have the opportunity to go and play when they're really young ... and understand another culture and learn another language. That's how the life goes on, and soccer is part of the life, and I think that's one of the things that Mexican players understand, and they're not afraid of going [abroad].

FFT: How big has that been for the Mexican national team?

GT: A lot of players are playing in big leagues, and you can see that when they come together and play for the national team, it's a different level than [with previous] national teams. They understand it, and they know they're at a different level, and they're in a huge opportunity to make history for Mexico.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

FFT: El Tri's rivalry with the U.S. men’s national team has gotten more intense during your career. Mexico was dominant for so long, but the U.S.’ rise seemed to prod Mexico's growth. How did the U.S. getting stronger make Mexico stronger?

GT: It's just like if you put, for example ... like Cristiano [Ronaldo] makes [Leo] Messi a better player, and Messi makes Cristiano a better player. That's how I see it. When you have a rivalry with a team that you know if you fall asleep, they will continue working and they will continue improving and there's going to be a day they will have a really competitive league.

When you have that in your area, like in CONCACAF, you will understand that you have to continue improving and trying to work with the youth players so they can become the future of the national team.

It depends how you take it. If you take it that you give up and they will become better than you, then OK, you can choose that. But if you decide to continue working and working with the youth teams the best as you can, then you're in a good way.

FFT: We're seeing that with the Central American nations, especially Costa Rica and Panama. CONCACAF is a very different region, in terms of competition, than when you started.

GT: I think Costa Rica has 15 or more [top] players in foreign leagues. It's crazy how they have been working and how they're willing to go out and improve their national team. Now the teams in Costa Rica and other parts of Central America, they understand that it's really important to work with youth players, that they can improve and build up to a point that [the players are] known by European teams and can be hired by them. That makes them and the national team better, and [the clubs] understand that's a good way to invest in players and that's a good way to get money from them.

FFT: How did you see the rivalry with the U.S.?  Did you always feel there was mutual respect?

GT: I think there's a big respect between both teams, between both countries, but sometimes you forget that and you just want to win, and you play as hard as you can. You don't care who's in front of you, you just want to be better than that player in front of you, no matter if it's USA ... or another country. It's the same mindset, to be on the field and trying to get the best result for your country.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

FFT: What do you remember about the round-of-16 game Mexico lost to the U.S. in South Korea at the 2002 World Cup? How difficult was it going through that?

GT: I think we were favorites for that game [against the U.S.], and sometimes you have to understand what does that mean, and probably we did not in that game. So that made me understand that all the games have to be played 100 percent.

You're not winning any game just standing on the field and just [wearing] your jersey. You have to sweat as much as you can and take good positions that makes your team become the winner. And, probably in that game, we didn't understand it that way.

NEXT: Torrado explains why El Tri will win a World Cup in his lifetime