For new Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda, the last few days have started what's bound to be a lengthy adjustment period.
The former Seattle Sounders assistant officially assumed his new role earlier this week, taking over a Five Stripes team that stumbled to start the 2021 season, leading to Gabriel Heinze's departure. But while awaiting Pineda's arrival after he was announced as the permanent replacement, Atlanta showcased improved form under interim coach Rob Valentino, rattling off a four-game winning streak.
With several training sessions now under his belt, Pineda told reporters that his first impressions have reinforced a previously-held belief that Atlanta can make a run back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
"First of all, adapting, in the first three days in the city and community with the whole organization with all the areas and departments we are blessed to have," Pineda said of his first few days in charge. "And adapting to the system, to the players. But overall with the players, I'm very happy with what I've seen. Everybody's very professional, everybody's trying to train at a high level and we are happy with what we've seen so far."
On Saturday, the real work begins when Atlanta face Nashville SC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (3:30 pm ET | Univision, TUDN, Twitter) in Pineda's first game on the sidelines and a Heineken Rivalry Week matchup to boot. Nashville are yet to win on the road this year, but have managed five draws away from the friendly confines of Nissan Stadium.
"In MLS nothing is easy, nothing is easy," Pineda said. "Every team, they have DPs, every team has ways to turn things around and balance – it's a very equal league. Obviously, Nashville presents some problems in the sense that they have a very specific way to play. They were very comfortable in a 4-4-2, now the last couple games they've played a 5-3-2 with [Hany] Mukhtar and [CJ] Sapong and then three very creative center-mids and three very physical center backs and wingbacks that are both box-to-box players, aggressive.
"So obviously there's a challenge there, but I'm very confident also in my team and what I've seen in the training sessions just makes me confident in the team. Even though Nashville is a great team, we are also a good team. So we will see on Saturday."
While it's Pineda's first head coaching job, the former Mexico international is plenty familiar with MLS' nuances from his time as a player and an assistant with the Sounders under Brian Schmetzer.
From a player's perspective, Atlanta defender Anton Walkes feels there's already a noticeable difference in having someone with Pineda's MLS experience running the show. Atlanta's previous three head coaches – Tata Martino, Frank de Boer and Gabriel Heinze – were all new to the league, making Pineda's hire a change in approach.
"It's been good under him so far. There's been a few changes in terms of tactically what he wants from us," Walkes said. "It's been very enjoyable so far, it's always good to have someone with his experience, especially playing here in MLS, which we haven't [had] as of yet. So having a coach who has the understanding over here has definitely shown so far. Hopefully we can show some improvements on the weekend against Nashville."
Regarding those tactical changes, Pineda said his early goal is to not rock the boat too drastically and impose a full-scale overhaul. Rather, it's more about subtle tweaks and nuances, with the goal of improving on the foundation that's already in place.
"I hope the players don't feel like it's been a big change because that wasn't the idea," Pineda said. "I think there's been just little tweaks to what they've been doing, but overall I would say I kept kind of the same structure, just some different ideas."