It’s early days in Gonzalo Pineda’s Atlanta United tenure – very early days. One-game-coached kind of early. But he’s putting his spin on the squad he inherited as best he can.
Pineda took charge of his first game as Atlanta boss on August 28, a 2-0 loss to Nashville SC, after running his first training sessions that week. Since the former Seattle Sounders assistant took over, he’s worked to maintain the positivity and forward steps made under interim coach Rob Valentino after the club parted ways with Gabriel Heinze amid a winless run, one that was imbued with indecisive soccer.
“He’s come in and instantly has tried to create a positive vibe within the group,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday, his 37th birthday. “In terms of how we go about our daily activities, training, preparation for games. Just not trying to overcomplicate responsibilities for players. With our group, he’s been able to make progress in those areas which translates onto the field.”
Simplicity is a welcomed theme.
“It can be extremely beneficial, especially if you have a young group,” Guzan said. “It was no secret how things were before in terms of what’s being asked of the group. To simplify things and make it clear what’s being asked of individuals, it makes things a lot easier to understand and ultimately accomplish.”
Pineda gets his second game on Friday when Atlanta host rivals Orlando City SC (7 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes), a big opportunity for Atlanta to regain momentum ahead of the sprint to Decision Day in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. Atlanta hold onto ninth place in the East and are three points below the playoff line. Fifth place and 10th after separated by only six points.
Atlanta have one of the most opulent attacks in the league, particularly after adding Brazilian winger Luiz Araujo on deadline day from French club Lille. He joins Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno, but the team had struggled to score goals, particularly earlier in the season.
One of Pineda’s biggest tasks is finding the right combinations and getting the most out of that quartet, if not the biggest.
“When you look at our team, you look at the attack-minded players we have,” Guzan said. “When you have the players we have, you instantly think we’re an attacking team and we should be scoring a lot more goals than we are. … It’s nice to keep the ball and keep possession but it’s ultimately about scoring goals and winning games.”
A win at home against Orlando wouldn’t be a bad spot for those principles to come to fruition.
Guzan has been in and around the US men's national team for essentially the last 15 years after making his debut in 2006, all the way through being on this summer's Gold Cup team that beat Mexico in the final.
On Wednesday, he was just a fan watching, sweating out a potentially disastrous end to the window with the USMNT down 1-0 at halftime to Honduras after a pair of uninspiring draws in their first two matches. The Americans rescued the result with an emphatic, backs-against-the-wall second-half performance, scoring four goals en route to a huge victory.
The sluggish on-field showings were exacerbated by off-field turmoil, with Weston McKennie being sent home after breaking protocol, as well as injuries to Sergino Dest and Gio Reyna.
“When you look at these three games, you instantly think it looked like a group that didn’t have a lot of qualifying experience,” Guzan said. “Last night was a massive result. Watching that game, you have a sense of pride and jubilation. There was a lot of criticism and talk from the outside. Knowing most if not all of the guys and the coaching staff, to see the result, it’s massive. You look at the table now, you can go into the October window now with confidence, with more experience.”
FC Dallas wonderkid Ricardo Pepi scored the go-ahead finish, to which Guzan couldn’t contain his excitement as Wednesday night turned to Thursday morning on the East Coast.
“For those guys to stand up in that moment with all the talk on the outside… I’m super happy for them,” Guzan said.