Martino: MLS can someday be as big as NBA

Vela reaches 31 goals in LAFC draw (1:33)

LAFC's Carlos Vela tied Atlanta striker Josef Martinez's single-season record of 31 goals in LAFC's 1-1 tie with Minnesota. To watch MLS, sign up for ESPN+. (1:33)

MEXICO CITY -- Former Atlanta United head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino believes MLS can one day equal the popularity of NBA.

The current Mexico manager spent two years in Atlanta, putting together the squad for the team's inaugural season in 2017 and then winning MLS Cup during the second attempt in 2018.

"In Atlanta I felt like a kid playing video games," Martino told TUDN. "We put together a team from nothing and fortunately it all worked out. MLS is starting to be seen as a stepping stone to Europe.

"At some point MLS will have the same relevance as NBA, it's a great spectacle," he added.

The 56-year-old lamented not being able to pick LAFC's Carlos Vela for Mexico's team this time around. Vela leveled MLS' all-time highest goal-scorer record last weekend.

Vela has indicated that he wants to make way for younger players in El Tri, after a rocky international career.

"With Vela, the conversation is simple," said Martino. "He says: 'I have these priorities and that's it.' I have to put up with it. I'd love to have him, but that's it."

Martino also said El Tri is close to confirming a friendly next March against the Netherlands. Mexico is scheduled to play one March friendly in the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium, although Martino didn't add whether the match against the Netherlands would be there.

A young Liga MX-based Mexico squad will face Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday in Toluca.

Martino, who coached Lionel Messi when he managed both the Argentina national team and FC Barcelona, added that he didn't include the Argentina star when voting for FIFA's "The Best" awards.

"The year he had wasn't enough to be in the top three," said Martino, who voted for Virgil van Dijk in first place, followed by Frenkie de Jong and Eden Hazard.