The Gabriel Heinze era in Atlanta did not last long.
After just 13 MLS matches, Atlanta United parted ways with the Argentine manager, who arrived in MLS highly regarded but leaves amid just two wins in 13 league games, a public disagreement with superstar forward Josef Martinez and a number of unflattering reports about his training techniques.
Now, for the second season in a row, ATLUTD made an early coaching change. And, for the second season in a row, the team hopes to get their season back on track before it's too late. Rob Valentino has taken over as interim head coach and is the person to lead the charge.
“Job number one is to get everyone on the same page, everyone to know their roles and responsibility," Valentino told media on Monday. "We have a game Wednesday. That’s the best thing— there’s games. We can get right into it and hopefully get positive results.”
Valentino enjoyed a playing career that spanned a decade, mostly in the lower leagues in America after being drafted in the first round of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft by the New England Revolution. He began his coaching career with Orlando City B in 2016 and was named to Frank de Boer's staff in Atlanta in 2019.
Ex-players came out in droves on social media to speak positively about their experience with Valentino when it was announced he was taking over as interim coach, highlighting how well-respected he is across MLS.
“I told the boys this morning I hope I bring the human element," Valentino said. "In terms of tactics, I’ll do my best. We’ll all do our best to turn the results around. Take more risks, create more chances, score more goals and win games. But ultimately, we’re dealing with humans. We’re dealing with people.”
Relationship-building was a point Valentino touched on a few times. During his time as an assistant, he's been able to cultivate bonds with a number of players and says he's worked hard at establishing connections with new players.
“We’re humans. We want to interact with people," Valentino said. "I don’t want them to think I just care about them as athletes, there’s more to them. They’re great athletes, but they’re good guys.”
Valentino isn't sure how long he'll be the interim boss. He says Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra made it clear he'll just be the interim coach and not in the running for the full-time role, but he's hoping to take advantage of the opportunity and steer the club in a positive direction for however long he's at the helm.
“I had mixed emotions, really," Valentino said when he was told of the coaching change. "It’s never easy to see somebody lose their job. I’ve been in this six or seven years, it’s never easy when you see that. Personally, I'm excited and grateful for the opportunity. There’s a lot of work to do, but I care about the boys. I care about the club. I want to see them succeed, I want to see them happy, I want to see them with smiles on their face.”