Atlanta United parted ways with head coach Frank de Boer late in July following the team’s miserable performance at the MLS is Back tournament.
Despite De Boer delivering US Open Cup and Campeones Cup titles in 2019, this still wasn’t enough to save his job, with shambolic defensive performances, disjointed midfield line-ups and a blunted attack perpetuating large parts of his reign.
So, with Stephen Glass now steadying the ship, the search is underway to find the next leader to guide Atlanta United and with that, here’s a look at some of the dream, realistic and wildcard options.
Dream: Marcelo Gallardo
Current club: River Plate
Accomplishments: Uruguyan Primera Division, Recopa Sudamericana x3, Copa Libertadores x2, Suruga Bank Championship, Copa Argentina x3, Supercopa Argentina
Given the recent shift in Major League Soccer in favour of scouting, signing and developing South American talent — rather than simply bringing in a has-been from Europe — it goes without saying that the majority of candidates linked with the Atlanta job will be from that very continent.
It may be a long shot — hence why it falls in the ‘dream’ category — but Marcelo Gallardo stands out above the rest the most exciting prospect.
The 44-year-old has been in charge of River Plate for over six years now and during that time, he’s become the ultimate expert in cup competitions.
Gallardo — who had a brief spell in MLS as a player with DC United in 2008 — has delivered two Copa Libertadores and three Copa Argentina titles for Los Millonarios — the former their first since 1996, the latter their first in club history. Sure, he hasn’t delivered a league title for River Plate yet, but he has finished second on three different occasions and as we’ve seen from Atlanta themselves, that can more than enough to set you up for the top prize in MLS.
Tactically, Gallardo is flexible. More recently, he has been deploying 3-5-2 system not too disimilar to that of De Boer’s, but with a much bigger focus on quickly getting the ball to the top of the opposition box, where River Plate’s more creative players can go to work.
Furthermore, he’s also been known to deploy a 4-1-3-2 system in the past, and it’d certainly be fun to watch Atlanta line-up in this fashion. Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Matheus Rossetto could operate in a creative trident behind Josef Martinez and Adam Jahn in what would be a target man/poacher partnership.
That brings us nicely to what might just be the biggest draw of Gallardo; his past relationship with Pity Martinez and the fact Atlanta have no fewer than five Argentine players on their roster.
Gallardo was the man who brought Pity to River Plate in the first place and together, they won those aforementioned titles while the midfielder picked up the South American Player of the Year award and two international caps for Argentina along the way.
Pity has often spoken of a desire to work with Gallardo again and you cannot deny it would be incredibly exciting to see them link-up again at the Benz.
Realistic: Ariel Holan
Current club: Universidad Catolica
Accomplishments: Copa Sudamericana, Suruga Bank Championship
As much as Gallardo would be an incredible appointment and a real statement of intent, he has been linked with the likes of Barcelona in the not too distant past and so, remains an unlikely option.
Another, more reasonable name that has been thrown into the mix is Ariel Holan, currently in charge of Chilean side, Universidad Catolica, and linked to Atlanta United by CBS Sports’ Roger Gonzalez.
Regarding Ariel Holan and Atlanta United, there is a small connection. Holan coached Barco at Independiente. Scored crucial goal in Copa Sudamericana final win over Flamengo.— Roger Gonzalez (@RGonzalezCBS) July 24, 2020
Holan’s most notable achievement today is lifting the Copa Sudamericana title with Argentie side Independiente in 2017 and, just like Gallardo, he did so with the help of a current Atlanta United DP, Ezequiel Barco.
While Barco hasn’t struggled quite as much as Pity — perhaps down to the relatively lower expectations placed upon him — there’s no doubting the 21-year-old is yet to truly live up to $15m the Five Stripes parted with to bring him to MLS.
Incredibly, Holan only became a part of the footballing world in 2003, when he traded in field hockey to attend soccer clinics in Pennsylvania and Atlantic City. However, his effect on the game in South America has been there for all to see.
The 59-year-old favours a dynamic, attacking style of play which relies on regular positional interchanges — perhaps playing into Barco and Pity’s favour — and aggressive full-backs who like to both overlap and underlap, which would suit the likes of George Bello, Brooks Lennon and Co down to the ground.
Holan only joined Universidad Catolica in December 2019 but the relative prestige that would come with managing Atlanta United — Tata Martino hasn’t done too badly for himself with that move — might just be too hard to turn down, should the offer be made.
Wildcard: Javier Aguirre
Current club: Free
Accomplishments: Mexican Primera Division, UAE President’s Cup, UAE League Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup
Another recent — and perhaps out-of-left-field — name to be linked with the Five Stripes is that of Javier Aguirre.
Aguirre might already be familiar to some Atlanta United fans as the man who masterminded Mexico’s 5-0 win over the United States in the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, while his CV has taken him across the globe from the United Arab Emirates to Japan, while he has extensive experience in La Liga, most recently with Leganes.
The 61-year-old was given the task of keeping Leganes in the Spanish top-flight in November, replacing Mauricio Pellegrino, and although he was unable to do so, Los Pepineros did manage to avoid defeat in 20 of the 30 games which he oversaw.
According to Marca, Aguirre is a keen admirer of MLS and if he were appointed Atlanta manager, would bring a similar high-testerone, attacking style seen under Martino, where the Five Stripes would look to counter-attack at break-neck speed.
“His tactical approach may deviate and he hasn’t really oversaw a terrific stretch from a club since he was in charge at Atletico Madrid over a decade ago. Still, he has a high opinion of MLS, he likes the offensive game that was a hallmark of the Martino Atlanta United team and can be a firm hand for a club that wants one,” read their report.
Having left Leganes at the end of the La Liga season, Aguirre is now available and seemingly keen to jump straight back into the dugout. He could represent a safe option for Atlanta given the similarities the Mexican shares to Martino, while the Five Stripes could once again be the club to propel an experienced manager back up the ladder.