It’s been a wild few weeks for Atlanta United, from a reported rift between Josef Martinez and Gabriel Heinze, to Heinze’s departure as head coach after just 13 games at the helm, to stories about why Heinze was let go and Martinez's return to the lineup.
Even by MLS standards, that’s a lot.
Perhaps no one is better to navigate through it all than Felipe Cardenas of The Athletic, who tackled all the major topics in the latest Extratime episode with co-hosts Andrew Wiebe and David Gass.
So how bad did it get at Atlanta under Heinze? Cardenas said that’s unclear still, but the blame should be shared.
“It's not just on the coach. There are decision-makers here that are responsible,” Cardenas said. “They set their sights on Gabriel Heinze – a six-month courtship where he was the only candidate. They put everything on Gabriel Heinze to be the coach that would get them out of this funk from the 2020 season that was a disaster. They had to fire Frank de Boer, they don't make the playoffs, the team just look like a regular sort run-of-the-mill MLS club coming from the Tata [Martino] years.”
Heinze was the latest high-profile Argentine-born manager to coach in MLS, following Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who was let go by the LA Galaxy last year and Matias Almeyda, who hasn’t been able to reclaim some of the success he had at Chivas Guadalajara during his time with the San Jose Earthquakes.
Is that an indictment of Argentine managers in a bigger sense? Cardenas doesn’t think so, especially since Martino is credited with so much of Atlanta’s early success.
“It’s not so much the country. I do think it's a cultural thing,” Cardenas said. “I think the fit has to be right, the project has to be right for these coaches. Matias Almeyda, is that the right project for him? We've been talking about that since he came in. It’s much different to be coaching at Chivas than to be coaching at San Jose.”
Of course, the big question now is who Atlanta United will hire. In a press conference last Sunday, Atlanta president Darren Eales suggested the critical hire would come sooner than later.
But who will the Five Stripes turn to? The club's history would suggest someone from outside MLS, but can Atlanta afford to do that 14 games into their season?
“It’s difficult to have the right answer here,” Cardenas said. "Is it an MLS-experienced coach? Well, do you want this job right now in the situation that you’re in? Is it an international coach? Does an international coach want to come in, does the club want to manage – we need to get him in, we need to work on the visa situation, we need to get him settled, we need to get his staff in place.”
For now, Atlanta have Rob Valentino in as interim coach, but a lot is riding on the next hire by Eales and Carlos Bocanegra, the club’s technical director, to be the right one.
Considering that, Cardenas doesn’t think it’s an appointment that should be rushed – but he understands why there's urgency.
“It's tough. Darren Eales said he wants to do a quick hire. I don’t know if that’s the right idea,” Cardenas said. “They have very difficult jobs to begin with, the front office members. But they want to make a quick hire and I think it's because they can’t afford to punt on the season.”
For more from Cardenas, check out the video clip above or the Extratime episode here.