UPDATE: On Tuesday, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez offered a clarification to his comments made in the story below. The Argentine defender said he doesn't have a beef with coach Frank de Boer.
“Yesterday I read the interviews,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It looks like I’m unhappy. It’s not like that. Things are changing. This is true. We are different, but we are trying to do our best. I don’t have a problem with anybody.”
He said his comments were more about the changes, specifically tactically since De Boer took over for Tata Martino.
“The face of the team is changing,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “This is what we want. We weren’t comfortable. I don’t know if we didn’t like it. We are more comfortable and are working to improve in these things.”
ORLANDO, Fla. – Midway into the 2019 season for Atlanta United, things on the surface may seem well, but underneath things tactically haven’t been the same. And that's not a great surprise.
The Five Stripes, after a slow start under new head coach Frank de Boer, sit well above the playoff line, but for their players, adapting to a new system has come with its share of challenges this season.
“Things have changed a lot, the way the club has played the game and we don’t like it,” defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez told reporters on Monday after the MLS All-Star team trained at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.
“We’re working to return to the way it was before and how we characterized through and differentiated us apart from other teams. We’re returning to that a little bit, you’re seeing a new face to the club, now we have to continue working on that to fortify that.”
Adapting from an attack-oriented form of soccer to a more defensive brand hasn’t been easy, according to Gonzalez Pirez. For the Argentine center back, it was that attacking style under former head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino that spurred Atlanta to becoming MLS Cup champions in 2018, after which Martino left the post to take over the Mexican national team.
“Of course, it’s hard,” he said. “Two years of playing the same way, which in return gave you results; Coming out as champions, winning the league in a deserving manner. When there was no reason to change, things changed.
“But we’re professionals, we have to adapt to what the coach wants and what the sporting director wants and try to do things in the best possible manner because we share the same objective.”
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Midfielder Ezequiel Barco noted that while it’s been challenging to change systems, it has yielded results, although the sudden change is noticeable.
“It’s been challenging for us because we stopped playing a way that allowed us to play more forward,” said Barco. “Frank [de Boer] came here with a plan that’s we’re trying to get used to. We’re applying it well on the field if you consider where we’re at in the standings, so we have to continue adapting and trusting what the coach asks from us."
For Gonzalez Pirez, however, he was blunt on how things have been this season under De Boer.
“It seems like the idea to attack our opponents has been put to the side and we usually begin defending first, and for us, we don’t like that,” he said. “If you notice, we aren’t a team that’s known to play defensively, but we were a team that scored the most goals and it made a difference during games. The games now we approach them playing uphill and it’s very distinct to the way we played last year, and we’re not pleased with that. So, it’s something that we need change to go back to feeling that same sensation when we were a team that was really strong offensively.”
When asked if there’s communication between the players and technical staff, Gonzalez Pirez said there was, but it’s not always coming across clearly.
“Yes, there’s communication, but sometimes things just aren’t understood,” he said. “… But we’re working, always thinking what’s best for the team and doing things the best possible.”