Why Atlanta United dismissed Gonzalo Pineda & what's next

Gonzalo Pineda - Atlanta United

Amid "one of the worst stretches in franchise history," Atlanta United parted ways with head coach Gonzalo Pineda in hopes of resurrecting their 2024 season.

That was the message from club president and CEO Garth Lagerwey on Monday afternoon, just hours after the Five Stripes moved on from Pineda. Atlanta have named Rob Valentino interim manager, maintaining a "new voice at the top" can turn results around in the second half of the year.

"Because we believe we're talented, because we believe the group still has a lot potential, because we believe we still have time to make it into the playoffs, we thought the change was appropriate," Lagerwey told reporters during a conference call.

The change comes with Atlanta sitting 13th in the Eastern Conference, winning just once in their last 11 games (1W-6L-4D). Sunday's 3-2 loss to Charlotte FC, their fifth straight at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, sealed Pineda's fate.

All the while, Atlanta's roster is highlighted by 2022 World Cup winner Thiago Almada and Greek international Giorgos Giakoumakis, with Saba Lobjanidze, Tristan Muyumba, Stian Gregersen and Bartosz Slisz helping strengthen the squad over the past two transfer windows.

"In broad strokes, I think talent is 80 percent of the equation and coaching 20 percent," Lagerwey said of the decision to part ways with the club's longest-serving manager. "But as a pragmatic matter, the thing you can change in the middle of the season is the coach, in terms of trying to affect a different outcome from the same group of players."

Valentino gets his shot

Now that responsibility falls on Valentino, who previously took over Atlanta on an interim basis in 2021 after the dismissal of Pineda's predecessor, Gabriel Heinze. Valentino put together a 4W-2L-2D record during his brief stint in charge.

This time around, Valentino will likely be given more time to make an impact and potentially lock down the coaching job permanently. Lagerwey, the former Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders FC executive, referenced then-interim manager Brian Schmetzer's MLS Cup-winning run with the Rave Green in 2016 to explain Atlanta's lack of urgency in finding a permanent replacement.

"I've had some success in Seattle by supporting an interim coach," Lagerwey said. "We do want to give Rob a chance to be successful here."

In the event Valentino doesn't work out, the MLS Cup 2018 champions are taking all the necessary steps to find the right person to take the reins of one of the league's highest-profile clubs.

"With this incredible infrastructure, it's going to be easy to recruit. We will be inundated with candidates for this job," Lagerwey said. "... We'll use some data, some analytics and some interviews to really sift through what will be an avalanche of candidates, I have no doubt."

Giakoumakis to Cruz Azul?

Lagerwey also acknowledged recent reports of negotiations between the club and Liga MX powerhouse Cruz Azul for Giakoumakis. The 2023 MLS Newcomer of the Year occupies one of Atlanta's three Designated Player slots, along with Almada and Gregersen.

"Long-term we're going to be committed to players who are committed to us," Lagerwey said. "We have had conversations with Cruz Azul, I'm happy to confirm that. But there is nothing that's happened at this point... Obviously it's been out in the public, the possible transfer of Giorgos. The possible move of Thiago Almada, we've talked about that for months."

As things currently stand, however, fans shouldn't expect any major squad overhauls any time soon.

"If you're looking for big changes, big evolutions in the roster, those are purely dependent on what happens in terms of sales of DPs in particular," Lagerwey said. "And again our narrative, our belief is that after the last two transfer windows, we have a number of talented players on that roster and the potential of the roster as a whole is better than the results that we've seen."