Leandro Gonzalez Pirez doesn’t have to wait long to play his old team. Only two games where he’s available for selection, to be precise.
Inter Miami will host Atlanta United on Wednesday in search of their second straight win, and the center back gets a reunion of sorts (8 pm ET |, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; TSN2 in Canada). Emotions could run high.
“When the schedule came out, I saw that we were playing against Atlanta and I began to think about what that situation would be like,” LGP said last week. “The club and city are dear to me. I have a lot of friends there. It’s going to be really special to play against them, but you have to separate those emotions and know that I’m defending the Inter Miami jersey and I have to give my best to my team and to my teammates for the fans and for the city.”
The 28-year-old was a foundational piece for Atlanta from 2017-19, appearing in 95 games for the club as they won MLS Cup in 2018 and U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup titles a season ago. But he was transferred to Liga MX's Club Tijuana for an undisclosed fee last winter, only for Miami to engineer his return to MLS in July via a Targeted Allocation Money deal.
Since LGP holds a green card, the Argentine doesn’t occupy an international slot for his new club. And he’s already proven foundational under head coach Diego Alonso, going the full 90 minutes in last weekend’s 3-2 win over Orlando City, their first victory in MLS.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was a key part of Atlanta United's rise in MLS | USA Today Sports
Even though it may look odd for Atlanta fans to see LGP sporting another MLS crest, Five Stripes’ defender Anton Walkes said these things are natural. He spent the 2017 campaign, Atlanta’s expansion year, with LGP and Miami left back Mikey Ambrose.
"I guess so, but things happen in football,” Walkes said when asked if the reunion will be strange. “There's a lot of changes that happen. Friends move on and all of that, but it’ll be good to see them. But we’ve got to go there and get the win, so we're going to forget about the friendship for 90 minutes or so."
If you’re looking for a common thread during LGP’s two MLS stops, it’s Miami sporting director Paul McDonough. He originally brought the center back to Atlanta from Estudiantes, and now the 2019 MLS All-Star is primed for success in South Florida.
LGP won’t let the emotions get the best of him, though.
“During the two hours of the game, the emotions will be set aside,” he said, “and after the game when everything’s done this affection and love that I have for Atlanta will continue to be there just like when I played there."