Coaches Q&A: Tata Martino and Ben Olsen up for the Cup

We put six questions to Inter Miami CF boss Tata Martino and Ben Olsen of Houston Dynamo to test the temperature in both camps on the cusp of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final.
By: Jonah Fontela

Inter Miami CF boss Tata Martino, an MLS champion in 2018 with Atlanta United and former FC Barcelona manager, is eager to add another crown to his trophy cabinet – and a second for the club after scooping the inaugural Leagues Cup in August. But the 60-year-old Argentine tactician will have his hands full up against 46-year-old Ben Olsen’s Houston Dynamo – flying in under the radar and aiming to spoil the party in suddenly glamourous Fort Lauderdale.

Read on to see what both coaches are thinking on the cusp of the September 27th Final from DRV PNK Stadium (broadcast LIVE at 8:30pm ET on Paramount+, CBS Sports Network, Telemundo, NBC Universo and Peacock (you can listen along on Futbol de Primera Radio)

What’s the main strength of your squad? What’s taken you here to the U.S. Open Cup Final?

Tata Martino (Inter Miami): I think the strength of the team is the desire to compete. We are competing very well through many different competitions. We set objectives and we try to achieve them and there is a conviction that we can compete and achieve them no matter what.

Ben Olsen (Houston Dynamo): Depth. It's been a group effort. We were resilient at times. The Open Cup is a rollercoaster and to get through it you need depth. You need the right bounces. You need the right draw. You need to be home more than you’re away. Even in the early stages, you need things to break your way, so there's still some luck involved. But our depth was a huge factor to this point.

What do you expect from your opponent in the Final?

Tata Martino (Inter Miami): I expect a lot. They’ve improved very much. The Dynamo have very good footballers like Hector Herrera and ‘Coco’ Carrasquilla – you can just see what they’re doing on the field these days. The truth is that the Houston team has been evolving as the season goes on and we expect a very difficult Final.

Ben Olsen (Houston Dynamo): [Inter Miami is] one of the sexiest teams this league has ever produced. They’re starting to have an identity and build relationships within the team. It’s not a great thing for you if you're playing against them, because now I think they're starting to look like a real team that's connected and understanding who they are. There’s a lot of really good players in the team, and not just their number-ten [Lionel Messi]. When these types of personalities and stars walk in the locker room, everybody just ups their game.

How important is the venue – DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale?

Tata Martino (Inter Miami): Playing at home is always an additional plus -- and with the support of the people here we always have the expectation of being able to put in a good performance.

Ben Olsen (Houston Dynamo): They’ve been won away before. I remember winning one [an Open Cup Final] on the road, in their building, against a heralded Real Salt Lake team [in 2013, when Olsen was coach of D.C. United]. It’s soccer and anything can happen. You’d always like to be home for the Final but we’re not and that’s a reality. We’ll act accordingly to be at our best.

Can you talk about your team’s current form?

Tata Martino (Inter Miami): As we always say, things change and you have certain moments. We had to put together a team while we were competing [Martino, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba all arrived in the summer with the MLS season in full-swing]. We didn't have time to work without competition, to have a long preparation, so we grew based more on the performance of the games and the results than on the work on the training field. And until now we have been meeting the objectives.

Ben Olsen (Houston Dynamo): It took some time [for the Dynamo to find consistency this year]. We're healthy, knock on wood, so we're deep. That’s really helped us navigate some of the games that have been coming fast -- Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday. And the depth has also helped us with some of these Open Cup matches and the Leagues Cup and the regular season. We've played a lot of games and so we've used a lot of different players, a lot of different structures, and that's always a great thing as a coach, if you can get some wins along the way using all of your players. It really builds the right type of locker room.

What’s the most important thing to get right in the days leading up to a Final?

Tata Martino (Inter Miami): We’ve played very many games in a short space of time. And that's why we emphasize the recovery of our players the most. I think that's the most important thing today.          

Ben Olsen (Houston Dynamo): For everyone to know these things don’t happen very often in a career – even if you’re lucky – a chance to play for a trophy. It means a lot to the fans and the organization. And maybe there's a little bit more sizzle to it [this Final] because of who we’re playing. No doubt. If you're not charged up for this one, you’ve got some problems.

Can you talk a little about your veterans and team leaders and how important they are to achieving success?

Tata Martino (Inter Miami): I believe that all teams that achieve a certain success do so with a mix of players – and we clearly have the impact of some big players. But we also have young players who are willing to perform. It’s the way different kinds of players come together in a group that makes the biggest difference. It makes us stronger as a team.

Ben Olsen (Houston Dynamo): Everybody's important. Everybody has to show up and play to their maximum ability if we're going to win this match. But the key stakeholders, like our captain Hector Herrera, these are the guys that really drive us. It’s important that they're at their best. And you know he's been to a few big games before, so he knows about the big day.

Fontela is editor-in-chief of Follow him at @jonahfontela on X/Twitter.