Editor's note: Atlanta United plan for Gonzalo Pineda to join the club for their Saturday match at D.C. United (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), though he won't be on the bench. A report from Doug Roberson of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that Rob Valentino will remain at the helm until Pineda is cleared to take over.
When Atlanta United host Toronto FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday evening (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), it will be Rob Valentino’s final game in charge of the club before Gonzalo Pineda’s scheduled takeover.
Since Valentino took the helm following Gabriel Heinze’s departure, Atlanta are 2W-2L-2D and unbeaten in their last three, including back-to-back wins. The Five Stripes are trending upward, sitting in ninth in the Eastern Conference and five points below the playoff line.
Valentino, who will remain on Pineda’s staff as an assistant, isn’t feeling emotional or like Wednesday’s match is an end of an era, albeit a short one.
“I won't miss anything because I'm still here. I don't look at it that way also. That's the other thing. Yeah, I get to stand up there with them, I get to be the one in front of them. That's great,” Valentino said. “But I've said it all along, we are in this together and it's not just going to be me and it's not just going to be them. So when things go in a bad way at any point in the game or if they would have gone a different way, I'm not going to say 'That was you guys, not me. I had nothing to do with it.' Or vice versa, it's not all on me. It's us together.”
Valentino joked that he’s enjoyed “shouting and screaming” from the touchline, but now looks forward to getting his voice back and working with ex-Seattle Sounders assistant Pineda, who will bring a “different voice into the locker room and somebody that's got really good experience.” Pineda's appointment came last week, though a positive COVID-19 test bumped his start back two games on the busy MLS calendar.
Valentino lauded the club’s humility, a sentiment defender Alan Franco agreed with. They had gone winless in 12 games before a draw at CF Montréal, followed by wins over Columbus and LAFC, creating plenty of room to grow.
“The truth is, the group here is very good and it's full of humble guys in the locker room. We're always going out there working with the mentality and that will to do our best so that things go our way,” Franco said via a translator. “We’ve gone through some tough moments lately, but in soccer you have highs and lows. But we're all working together. As I said, the group is very good and every time we go out on the field, nobody likes to lose, so every time we go out it's with that intention to do things well so that things can go our way.”
While Valentino downplayed his impact on Atlanta’s turnaround, Anton Walkes feels the 35-year-old deserves credit for righting the ship. The club's also hoping for some stability after both Heinze and ex-head coach Frank de Boer were let go midseason, with changes aplenty since Tata Martino departed to lead Mexico's national team following their MLS Cup-winning campaign in 2018.
“I've always been a big fan of Rob just as a person and it's going to be a shame to see him not be the main key figure because the amount of work he puts in, he definitely deserves the opportunity he's had so far and he's done very well,” Walkes said. “It’s going to be good, but the position he's going back into, he plays just as big of a role, dealing with all the guys and just being a very good mentor, getting his arm around people. I think he's found a way to keep the group together and that's been since we were going through a very, very bad stage. He's just a great person and hopefully he doesn't switch up on us.”