Gonzalo Pineda’s first match at the helm of Atlanta United just didn’t go the way any of us wished it would have. Obviously, a 2-0 loss is not how any manager wants to start his reign over a club, especially a high-profile one, but the winning streak had to come to an end at some point. Atlanta United just couldn’t break through a stout Nashville defense on Saturday night, but Gonzo was quick to shoulder the responsibility (literally a quote from below). He praised the passion (Josef, anyone?) and the attacking mindset (Araujo, anyone?) of the players, while pointing out technical issues that he wants to address in training.
And by the way, if ANYONE has ever questioned what this club, this city, and these supporters mean to Josef Martinez, they can take one look at this:
Yes, Josef channeled his inner Hulk Hogan and then his inner Jackie Chan because the ball just wouldn’t go in. My wife says I’m passionate watching the game (punching air and yelling), but he took this to a new level. Angry Josef can be a good thing though, so hopefully he brings that back after the World Cup qualifiers. Now, on to the post-match quotes.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda
On if he was ‘satisfied’ from Atlanta United’s performance in today’s game: “Well, I cannot say (that) we are satisfied. Obviously, we lost the game, and that’s painful. That’s painful to me, painful for the players, too, painful to the fans –which are the most important part. What I can say that I’m happy with the effort from the players. I’m happy with them trying to score many goals, trying to cross from different areas, trying to create more chances (and) trying to just do everything to win. It was disappointing, because I felt like the team tried, and the team played well. But, obviously, we need to work on a couple more things in order to get better results. The heart, the passion (and) the attacking-minded style of the players in the times when they tried to take risks in one-vs-one and even sometimes, one against three. That’s what I wanted –a team that is trying to score every time. I’m happy with the effort of the players, but the soccer is on me. So, this one is on me. I always say that I have big shoulders to take responsibility, and this one is on me. My job is to give the players the tools to succeed, and maybe that’s something that I didn’t do today, and that’s on me. The players –I can’t ask any more in terms of the effort, the heart, and the passion that they put on the field.”
On what Nashville SC did well today: “Well, Nashville is a very good team. I want to congratulate them. They did a very good job. They have a good coach, a good team, and they played very well in their style. They played a 5-3-2 in the beginning of the game, where they were causing us problems in the midfield, and they were rotating a little bit out of shape, and it was hard for us to find the (midfielders). (Aníbal) Godoy –he was a little bit free, at times. So, again, we will have to reflect on how we prepared for the game. But I felt that the second half, when we switched to the 4-2-3-1, we had a better control of that part, and we had more attacking players in the attacking half. I felt that the change was successful in some ways....That’s always part of the coaching reflection. I try to give them the instructions at halftime so they can sink in and make us better. Would I wait a little bit more? I felt like by the end of the game, the players solved some of those problems on their own. I’m always looking in those situations –how with limited instruction, they can solve the problems.”
On how this loss feels heading into the international break: “It’s always disappointing when you lose. I can’t say that I’m pleased with that. What I can say is I felt, and guys, I’m more emotional than any other feeling, I saw the jersey from Josef (Martínez) at the end of the game, and that he had blood on the jersey, and how (Ezequiel) Barco was pressing harder and trying to offer the ball. They wanted to win. Those little actions mean something. For me, they mean a lot. Those very attacking-minded players, for me, gave me everything, and that’s all I can ask for. The fútbol was there. The passion was there. It’s just sometimes, the ball doesn’t want to get in....Yes, happy for the four players (George Bello, Miles Robinson, Josef Martínez and Ronald Hernández) we have on the international team. That’s always good for the club, good for the players, good for the team, and we are happy for them, more than anything. After that, we’ll miss them during some training sessions, and we’ll see who plays more minutes, who has a better traveling schedule, and who we can use during our next game against Orlando (City SC) at home. It doesn’t matter, we’re going to try to win in the same fashion as we tried today.”
On any takeaways from Luiz Araujo’s performance: “Well, that happens. That happens with all the attacking players. There are times where they are a bit sharper. There are times where they don’t even try and they score a goal or score a rebound. That’s a little bit lucky at times. I think I was just happy with him trying to play aggressive. He was so comfortable at times in the first half, where he just started to dribble aimlessly and that’s a sensation that is good for the team. After that, obviously, I can do a better job on putting some of the runs in behind, making sure when he is dribbling, we can attack in a better way so he has a couple more options there, and that’s again a part of my reflection. But I was pleased with Araujo just trying to score. He told me at the end of the game, the ball didn’t go in today and I agree with him. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes the soccer ball, which we all love, is going to be selfish at times. We will train. We will do a couple more finishing drills and that helps with their confidence. But again, the most important part for me was he was trying to score goals.”
On the team’s training schedule: “When I first arrived to the club, there was some kinds of debt in terms of days off, so now I have to pay that debt, which, for me, I learned that from my mentor that the mental freshness is very important in MLS. It is good for the players. Some of them have a heavy load. Last week was really long in terms of playing Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday. It’s just really long for the players. They have no recovery at all and they go through that and they won a few games. So, I want to give them a little bit of a break, a mental reflection on things where we can do better, and they will come back. We will train hard. We will continue the process of making this franchise a successful one and we focus on the next few games.”
On the change in formation: “Very pleased with that because we never trained that these three, four days of training. Never trained that. It was something that was in the back of minds of us coaches. We talk about that possibility, but we didn’t want to through that process because Nashville was doing a good job finding that midfielder in the center of the field and we felt that was the best way to protect the middle and then be more offensive. So taking a center back out and putting another center-mid more offensive, more of an eight gave us more possibilities to go for the equalizing. So, I was very pleased on the players understanding that, understanding more possibilities. The fullbacks still were aggressive. You saw after that Brooks Lennon had a couple of one-v-ones. Then, Araujo had a couple more from the inside. So, I was very pleased with their understanding on the switch and when we change the game plan on the fly, I like that from our players.”
Atlanta United defender Anton Walkes:
On what Nashville was doing that caused Atlanta trouble in attack: “Firstly they defended well. We created plenty of chances, but didn’t get those clear cut chances to get a goal think. From my backline looking forward it looked like we created a lot. Maybe we weren’t quick enough with the ball to get shots off. We pinned them back at times. We had guys running at players quite a lot. It felt like we had more than just two shots on target today.”
On taking points at home and how important that is down the stretch: “I wouldn’t say so. If you look at the last month, there has been a shift in momentum. I think we’ve had a few more changes with a new coach, that’s not an excuse, but there are changes. Again, he has his ways of getting improvement for us. Credit to Nashville though. They were up for the game and they capitalized on the chances they had. We will look over it, we are going to take some time like we have and we will find a way to come back for sure.”
On how the team responded to Pineda in his first match: “He’s a great coach. His philosophies so far have been fantastic. Especially, as I’ve said before, he’s very efficient how he conducts training sessions and small details that put us in the best position to win. Again, it’s only the first game, it’s a starting point. We’ve just come off a great run of games, and I think we can get back to that as soon as possible.”
On Nashville being hard to break down: “Of course. They are ruthless with their chances. They have quality forwards, quality defenders and they are solid all around. They are a team that is pushing for the playoffs, maybe it’s a team we see again. We will reflect and start chipping away at the teams ahead of us in the standings.”
On how the defenders did in the three-man backline: “We just knew we needed to move quicker or sometimes just hold our position. It’s not ideal because the guy in front of you may need support 25-30 yards out and they are capable of getting off a shot. It’s small details, split second decision to come out or not. There are opportunities in the second half, where we reacted quicker, and found a way to deal with that situation. It’s learning, it’s pretty evident the systems we’ve had in the past, but we are going to keep working on it. Fortunately, Gonzalo Pineda has only been here for a short period of time. That’s one of the small details he wants to go over again. Once we get that right, the back three will be more solid.”
Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson:
On head coach Gonzalo Pineda’s first match in charge: “He’s obviously a great leader, good guy and a genuine person. I think today is just about us. He gave us a lot of confidence going into the game, at halftime as well. Just as a player, as a team, I think we need to play better.”
On breaking through against Nashville’s tough defense: “It’s tough when they sit in with a back five that’s very disciplined. They have a strong player at the six as well. For us, we have to get better to create more chances in the game. I don’t think they had many chances either, so it was kind of a stalemate of a game. They just were able to score that first half goal, which was tough to give up.”
On what the team needs to improve upon to create more chances: “It’s tough to say really. Maybe some more runs in behind, spread their backline more. It was a tough game overall. Nashville is a tough team to play against, solid tactically, solid defensively.”
On if this loss is more frustrating going into the international break: “We definitely had a few chances. Luiz Araujo had some good chances, maybe it just was one of those games where it was a little unlucky for us. That can happen in soccer. There are a lot of games left in the season. Maybe this will give us a little more energy coming into these next 10 days off. You just have to forget about today, take a deep breath and start grinding again.”
On what he’s most looking forward to with the upcoming USMNT World Cup Qualifying matches: “These next games are definitely going to be very intense, high-level matches. Who knows what the pitch quality will be like in general. I’m excited to put a footprint on the game if I get the chance to play and give my everything for the country. I’m excited.”
On if he feels comfortable in a certain position at the back: “It was tough in the first half sometimes. In the last few games we’ve been playing man-v-man in the back but we had an extra defender early in the game today. That caused us some trouble, whether the center back should step into the midfield or not. Once we switched to the back four, it gave us the advantage, where we could be man-v-man in the back and have the extra midfielder on the ball.”
Gonzo has some good training time ahead to prepare for the next match against Orlando City on September 10, and I’m curious to see if the tactics begin to slowly change over the next few games. Unfortunately, the game plan Rob Valentino had was always going to be a tough ask against a team as stingy as Nashville, especially when Atlanta wasn’t exactly dominating during their winning streak. Regardless, wins are points and losses are nothing, so let’s pray Gonzo can snag this team a quick rebound. I’m just really upset Mando didn’t get to throw out some more quotes.