TATU: Demanding Excellence...with Patience

by Michael Lewis

Tatu wears his passion and heart on his sleeve.

Given his history as a legendary indoor soccer player, Tatu expects and demands excellence from himself, including his team. 

Of course, he realizes that he will need to be patient because expansion teams don't necessarily become championship clubs overnight and that includes the Major Arena Soccer League. 

As head coach of the Mesquite Outlaws, Tatu has been encouraged by the progress his squad has made this season, although he admitted that it could take three years to reach a level to play with the big boys in MASL on a regular basis. 

"Well, look, I'm a very rational person if you talk to me outside," he said. "When I get to the business, I'm very competitive. I sometimes forget about we're a brand new team. We just want to be competitive. I am very patient individual. Sometimes I get frustrated because I don't get it, what I feel like we should have already. Does that make sense?" 

For the first time in four years, Tatu is back siting on the bench, directing the Outlaws to a 3-5 record heading into Saturday's encounter with the Turlock Cal Express. The last time the 57-year-old Tatu directed a team was with the Dallas Sidekicks during the 2014-15 MASL season. They finished at 14-6. 

Four years can be a long time, so Tatu has been forced to re-learn the league. He said the learning curve has involved "the style of the teams, how they play, the big guns, how you should be playing them." 

"So, everything for me is a learning process and it's going to take time," he added. 

But he has proved to be a fast learner. "One thing I can tell you, you can fool me once, but the second time I'll be better prepared for you," he said." 

So, the 2019-20 season has been a big learning curve for Outlaws players and head coach. 

"I still don't know the league," Tatu said. "Sometimes you make coaching mistakes and people don't recognize it because they don't know the game. You get away with it. I'm studying, I'm willing to learn. I watch everyone and I'll adjust. I have to be patient and that's the way it is. Otherwise, I will be going crazy. My expectations are high. You don't play the game for long having low expectations, but I'm working on it. too. It's tough when you get old. You have to change your ways a little bit." 

Before we got any further, a quick history lesson for some of our uninformed readers. Back in the day, the Brazilian was a scoring terror, mostly for the Dallas Sidekicks, among several indoor leagues. Tatu, whose given name is Antonio Carlos Pecorari, was a member of four Major Indoor Soccer League championship teams. He finished with a stunning 857 goals and 728 assists for 1,585 points in 633 matches over 21 seasons. And yes, he is a member of the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame. 

Besides the Sidekicks, Tatu has had plenty of coaching experienced, guiding several high school and youth teams to various championships and finals. 

During this past summer he was approached by Outlaws owner Mehrdad Moayedi, a Dallas-Fort Worth real estate developer and president and CEO of Dallas-Fort Worth-based Centurion American Development Group, about coaching the team. Tatu and Moayedi hit it off during a job interview. 

"The one thing he mentioned to me amazed me the most. He hired people that he wants to be a family-type situation," Tatu said. "He has to have a good vibe about you, and you have to fit into his family concept. and so I felt very comfortable around him." 

Moayedi tried out for the Dallas Tornado back in the day, Tatu said, "so he has a background in soccer."

"My next question for him was: do you want to be competitive? Are you going to treat the guys correctly? He said yes," Tatu said. "Here, we have players who stay in a five-star hotel. We have a couple of families. They bring their wife. We put them in the right place, so he's treating with dignity, as professionals. That to me is big. I try to explain to him that I know you're successful. You have to be patient. It's going to take a while. It's probably going to take three or four years for us to build a team because there is a lot of teaching, a lot coaching.” 

Tatu was named coach on July 22 as he started to build a team. 

"Basically, we're a three-month-old franchise," he said. "You're not going to build a team in three months. We had some pieces from out of town. We had some veterans in town. Some were already retired [that we] we brought to the plate. Then we got some players from the Sidekicks who were not happy over there and felt like they needed a change. So, we're going to mix outsiders, insiders and veterans. So far, it's been above my expectations. We've been competitive, but inexperience in the indoor game probably has cost us a couple of games. So, that's the issue. We're teaching, we're educating. Its going to take a while before we master and we, the players, understand the game." 

As it has turned out, Mesquite's three top scorers are former Sidekick players -- forward Jamie Lovegrove (eight goals, four assists), VcMor Eligwe (seven goals, four assists) and Anthony Powell (six goals, four assists). 

The Outlaws have shown some encouraging signs. They pulled even with the defending champion Milwaukee Wave at 3-3 entering the fourth quarter before losing 6-3 on Dec. 31. They were level with the Western Division leaders Monterrey Flash, at 2-2 before giving up the game-winning goal in the fourth period on Dec. 4. Mesquite also dropped a 10-8 decision to Monterrey on Jan. 11. 

"When you go toe-to-toe with the champions and you lose in the last four or five minutes it's ok," he said. "When you go toe-to-toe with the [first] place team and you lose in the last five minutes, it's ok. 

"It means you're on the right track and you're there and you're progressing. There are a couple of losses where I was disappointed where did not win, where we did not perform at our level like we did against the bigger dog. That's part of the business. We're going to get some ups and downs." 

The Outlaws' three ups have been three wins against their biggest rival, the Sidekicks, who are some 30 miles from Mesquite in what could become one of the best rivalries in the league. Remember, Tatu set records and filled the net for that team for 19 seasons and directed the team for nine seasons during two coaching tenures. 

But beating the Sidekicks wasn't necessarily such a big deal for the Brazilian striker.

"To be honest with you, the players make it a little bigger deal than for me," he said. "Look, I'm a Sidekick forever. It's not exactly the same Sidekicks today, but I'm a Sidekick. It's the reason I'm in town, the reason I played the game indoors for the Sidekicks, who gave me the opportunity. The Sidekicks are always going to be in my heart. 

"So, beating them, to be honest with you, it's not one way or the other. It's like, hey, it’s a local team. They want to create the rivalry, which is good because we want to the fans to come when we play each other. It's important to have two teams in town, two competitive teams in town. It's great. We beat the rival three times but it's another team, a local team. We had four, five guys who played with them last year. For them it's a big deal. 

"For me, it's a building process. The good thing about it is that they've been in the league for six, seven years and we've been in three months. So, at least we're doing something good. We're doing something right because six, seven years and in the league and you’re only three months and you beat a team like that, it means you're on the right track." 

Tatu figured the Outlaws probably will be in for a battle every night in the MASL. This is a different league than the one he left after the 2014-15 season. 

"From the last five six years, the league has changed a lot for the best," Tatu said. "The quality of the teams; there's no bad teams anymore. Every game is well coached, the players are athletic. There's a lot of movement. The game is better. The quality of the teams today compared to the teams of six years ago is night and day. There's not a pushover team today, at least the ones I saw. We are supposed to be one of the pushover teams and we're not. We're lacking depth. When we run out of gas, it is very difficult to compete. And we're still immature because we make too many mistakes defensively. Simple mistakes. Ball watching, not staying with runners, turnovers in the wrong spot, some decision making." 

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the Outlaws. 

"We can do a few things," Tatu said. "We still miss a lot of opportunities. Against good teams, we make a mistake and they put the ball into the back of the net. They make a mistake, we're still not there yet. Like I said, it’s a process. We're finally starting using the board a little bit. We've started working in on tap-ins on the back post. We're a small progress, small things, but we're getting there. The goal is hopefully, three, four years from now, we want to compete with the San Diego’s, Baltimore’s and Milwaukee’s of the league. If we compete and stay close in the end [today], it is like a victory for us." 

Given Tatu's history, that just might come sooner than later.