Gabriel Heinze addressed the Atlanta United media on Monday for the first time and discussed an array of subjects. One of the more talked about points from his 30-minute introductory presser surrounded the topic of expectations. Despite Atlanta United’s tremendous early success, Heinze’s tenure with the Five Stripes should not be judged on how many pieces he adds to the club’s trophy cabinet.
When the subject of expectations for Atlanta United is broached lately I can’t help but think about two different seasons in the club’s short history. When thinking about what I truly want from this club I look back at the inaugural 2017 season compared to the 2019 season.
Frank de Boer won two trophies during his very short time here. Yet when comparing Frank’s first season — that on paper is a success by almost any measure — it pales in comparison to the enjoyment that the 2017 season brought me. Sure, the novelty of it being new and exciting is a factor, but from a pure soccer perspective, that season had everything you could possibly want except the end product of a trophy.
Tata Martino’s brand of soccer engulfed this city with excitement from the first-ever match at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The high-flying, high-risk, attacking style of play made every single lover of the sport fall head-over-heels for Atlanta United. Like it or not, that initial burst of excitement will forever be the benchmark for expectations at this club.
Of course every team who competes wants to inevitably win a trophy, but as 2019 taught us, just because you bring a prize home doesn’t mean it’s going to fulfill you. Winning should be a product of a thriving style and soccer culture, not a be-all-end-all goal that you soullessly strive for at all costs.
Heinze’s main mission in Atlanta is to re-establish a culture around the club that encapsulates a familiar feel to that 2017 season. The goal isn’t to try and clone Tata, it’s to bring back a sense of excitement to the every day life around the club. If the style of play is exciting, the players will buy-in to the project. If the players are on-board, the play on the field will reflect that. If the soccer exudes that excitement, the fans will be elated and thus restoring that 2017 feel that became the Atlanta United brand. If he can do that, his tenure will inevitably be a success no matter how many trophies the team does or doesn’t win.
The soul has been sucked out of Atlanta United over the past 24 months. It’s Gabriel Heinze’s job to rebuild that foundation of excitement.