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Gonzalo Pineda: “I Think We Are Going to Look More Dangerous”

As if they didn’t just put a tinge of 2018 fear back into MLS without Josef

MLS: Orlando City SC at Atlanta United FC
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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Five Stripes just brought all of the uncles to show Orlando City a good time, and dad-Josef couldn’t be any prouder. There is so much to unpack here, but I can say without a doubt this is the best Atlanta United has looked in a very long time. Gonzalo Pineda facilitated a clinic against Orlando, who looked completely lost for 90-plus minutes. This match really felt like classic Atlanta, mixed with a dangerous new look. Gonzo worked the whole 90 looking like the Godfather, Luiz Araujo sent like two Orlando players to another dimension (one is still sliding down I-75) and came EVEN CLOSER to his first goal, Matheus Rossetto had a near-perfect game, Barco turned into Lionel Messi, and George Campbell drilled a perfect header off a Mando Moreno cross.

Meanwhile, the 17’s literally never stopped chanting and trust me when I say the FS1 broadcast caught every single word. The home crowd were making sure downtown Atlanta could hear Orlando getting fathered, and the atmosphere was simply...rowdy. We got to hear from Gonzo and an unlikely pairing of Rossetto and Campbell after the game, so here are the post-match quotes from Atlanta’s 3-0 smashing of Orlando.

Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda

On George Campbell’s goal:

“Yes, that was part of the plan on set pieces, to do two-versus-ones as many times as possible. We detected that Orlando [City FC] only sent one guy there, and an assistant pointed that out to me, and we encouraged them to play two-versus-ones many times because we have such skillful players there in Marcelino [Moreno] and [Ezequiel] Barco, and then Luiz Araújo too on the other side. Credit to [George] Campbell though for just sprinting forward and reading the play fantastically. The gap between the defenders, he just attacked the ball in a very good way, which is typical from Campbell because he is very aggressive, and I liked the aggression from all of our players.”

On the team’s preparation going into tonight’s match:

“The test for us, and credit to the players, when we started to prepare for the game and started trying to face what we faced today during training sessions, I felt that sometimes they felt uncomfortable. Then, they solved some tactical kinks on their own, and that is where I am very happy. Sometimes, we as coaches can really pay attention to the solutions that the players provide to us, not us always providing the solutions. I love to analyze the training sessions because we can see certain behaviors from them that we can continue in the game plan, and they did it fantastically today.”

On the play of Luiz Araújo:

“He was great. I feel that at times, Luiz [Araújo] is starting to adapt to the league, his teammates, the opponents, the pace of the league, even the turf, which are things, little nuances that means we are still not seeing his maximum potential. What we saw today was a very dangerous player, an attacking player that sometimes even when he does not touch the ball, he creates many gaps for his teammates, and that is what I love about Luiz. He is always on the move, and he is always trying to go for a goal. Today, he had a fantastic shot that we all saw together, and he saw the replay and was upset that it did not go in, but I told him that it is coming. When he scores the first one, I am sure many more will come.

On injury updates to Amar Sejdić and Jake Mulraney:

“[Amar Sejdić] had a little bit of an issue over the week, and we preferred to be cautious with him, so we are going to see how he is in the next week and see if he will play against FC Cincinnati or DC United. Jake [Mulraney] is coming back from an injury, so we said that he is coming back and does not need to play 90 minutes of high intensity, especially against a very good opponent like Orlando [City FC] because it is very important that we are physical and have the intensity that we need. So, it was already part of the plan to sub him out at a certain point when his intensity started to drop down a little bit. I think he could have played a couple more minutes, and we already discussed that in the locker room, but I felt that it was important that we continue the intensity on the left side, and [George] Bello gave us many good sprints and many good attacking movements in the final third. A couple of styles we need to reflect on those movements, to be more consistent, but he had a very good game too.

On incorporating Josef Martinez back into the lineup:

“We have to see. Josef [Martinez] is a great player and he is part of my team, and he is a fantastic player, and he is an international player that plays for Venezuela. There is no reason not to put him on the field. We must create the tactics seeing what we have on the field, and then try to make the next plan. The game plan is not going to work out every game because the opposition does a good job, plays well, and adjusts, and that is where the challenges will come. I want to see the reaction from the players when it is not exactly as we designed or planned, but I really think that Josef is going to help the team even more when he is integrated with [Ezequiel] Barco, Marcelino [Moreno], and Luiz Araújo in those attacking movements. I think we are going to look more dangerous.”

On the team’s first win and how he feels…

“Thank you for the question. I said this before, it’s not about my first victory. It’s about these three points that are very valuable for the team (and) for the club. The players deserve every single part of the victory. I felt like that they did an amazing job. They worked pretty hard the past few weeks, and this is a reward for them. At the same time, it’s a reward for the fans, which I really like the connection we bring with them. They were cheering for us in every single moment, and that’s very, very important for us.”

On the decision to play in a False 9…

“Very good. We actually tried to say that it was two False 9’s because Marcelino (Moreno) plays a 10. We tried to create that hesitation with Luiz (Araújo) and (Ezequiel) Barco at two 9’s outside between the lines. My worry was that maybe we didn’t have enough numbers inside the box. That was my only question before the game was (I) knew that we were going to create chances, but then, are we going to have enough presence inside the box? I felt, at times, that we missed a little bit of that, but many other times, we were combining very well. The possession was very good. It was the type of possession that I want which is plenty of footwork, breaking lines and creating chances. I’m really pleased with the way that they applied all the tactics.”

On if any of the team’s goals tonight came from working in practice on the ‘primary assist zones’…

“Well, really, we created a couple of chances during the second half below high/low, the one-v-one, even the Barco one, and also (Lennon) almost had a one-v-one with the goalkeeper there, too. (They were) a couple half-chances I would say. The goals came out of set pieces, which I’m very proud, because the assistants take that as their baby. I’m very happy for them because they work very hard, and they did a great job on set pieces. After that, the fantastic goal that (Ezequiel) Barco scored a little bit in transition around three players was a reward for Barco because I felt that the defensive part, and not just the defensive part, was great. You saw in the 19th minute when he came on the side and went on the ground to block a pass, it was fantastic. That tells me a lot about where Barco is mentally and physically with the team.”

On if getting behind the defense was part of the gameplan…

“That was part of the gameplan, obviously. Sometimes, the game presents themself differently than what we planned. That was the idea, not just with (Ezequiel) Barco, but with Luiz (Araújo) and with (Lennon) and with Jake Mulraney and then, with (George) Bello so that even the attacking players, even Marcelino (Moreno), he did a bit of attacking. The idea was to create hesitation or who jumps on who? So, if the lead back jumps on Bello, then the run from Barco is behind, and then the centerback may not have a good reference on following him or maybe Marcelino between the lines. So, that is the idea to always create constant movements or so that we can utilize or get in behind the backline.”

On how he felt about Orlando City SC’s performance defensively…

“Well, sometimes, I like to create tactics that I don’t have the answers for, so like that. So, sometimes, what I would do is, I don’t know? I said, OK, whatever they do, is we have the chance here. My job as a coach is to give those ideas to the players. Then, they have to face it in the training sessions, they have to play it in the training sessions, and hopefully, it presents itself the same in the game. This time, it happened, sometimes once, because that’s part of the game. Part of why I’m very happy about the victory is because of the opponent. The opponent is the one who gives more credit to the three points than the others. Orlando is a fantastic team. I have a lot of respect for Oscar Pareja and his coaching staff. As far as the team, it’s full of great players, quality players and experienced players. That’s why this victory means more to all of us.”

On how they build momentum from tonight’s game…

“Part of that is the message. It’s a great victory. We celebrate. We certainly celebrate very, very good, but from tomorrow, day off, they have to recover and Sunday, we’re working on Cincinnati. We are planning everything – every little last thing – as if we have to win this game as if its life or death against Cincinnati. Obviously, we will have Josef (Martínez) and we will have Miles (Robinson), and yes, we lost Sosa because of the yellow card, but I think we’re going to be prepared for Cincinnati.”

On George Campbell’s first MLS goal...

“I can see a centerback with tremendous potential. He’s a centerback that is physically gifted. His aggression when he presses between the lines was fantastic today, so I was pleased with his performance before he scored the goal. So, he did a couple tackles on the ground, and we gained a couple important balls in transition that helped us to continue the attacking. I am very happy with his performance. I think part of what we learned last week was the defensive shape and how we have to get rid of the mid-marking and all of that. We need to march solely, but the moments we engage a player we have to do it aggressively. I know he did that. I am very happy for his first goal. His teammates were very, very happy for his first goal, and that makes me even more happy because he’s a team guy, and the players love him.”

Atlanta United defender George Campbell

On how it feels to score:

“It was amazing - even better because it’s my mom’s birthday today, told her that I’d score for her, so it’s really amazing. I did my best and it came right to me. It was meant to happen I guess.”

On the corner kick play:

“I think we were actually telling them to wait a little for some guys to get in the box, but once it was taken, I decided to gamble. Obviously, you saw what happened.”

On how he feels in the backline and the change from man to zonal:

“We’ve been doing a lot of back-five defensive organization. I thought we were all pretty comfortable. We talked a lot across the backline. I thought it was good communication today, which helped us a lot and I felt pretty comfortable.”

On his conversation with Miles Robinson before the match:

“Nothing but positive thoughts and encouragement – I thought that was the main thing. I think he was one of the people to say, ‘Get yourself a goal.’ It was positive thoughts.”

On when he found out he would be starting versus Orlando:

“I think throughout the week we did some trainings where it looked like I was going to start, but positive – like 100% -only a few days ago. I tried to be as prepared as possible, always.”

On if there is a better group of center backs than the group in Atlanta:

“In my opinion, once we establish ourselves with a new coach, whatever formation we have or if someone has to sit, I think we are all amazing and we play well together. Once we get more chemistry, we’ll be even better. That’s not up to me to decide - that’s for the outside people who watch to decide that – and we just do our job, the best we do.”

On the vibe of the team and how to stay consistent after a big performance:

“Just keep it up with intense training sessions, focus, don’t get too high or too low. If we lose a game, we just try to stay focused at all times in training – know what the goal is each game, know how we want to play each game. Just keep focusing on everything.”

On if Marcelino Moreno pointed at Campbell or if he read the play:

“I think we made eye contact once or twice. He looked up to see who’s in the box. He looked back down at the ball and looked up again. Once I saw his eyes, I just kept running. I told myself hopefully it will come to me.”

On how difficult it was for him to go from man marking to zonal:

“It’s a pretty big adjustment, but I think we are all comfortable with this way a little more. I think in that sense it’s not too difficult. I think we’ve adjusted well – we played really well tonight and I think we’ll only get better. It’s not too difficult – obviously, everything is a challenge someway. We adjusted really well tonight.”

On if the yellow card affected his play in the second half:

“I try to play in a way at all times that I don’t have to get yellows. Even when I did have a yellow, I was trying to play the same. Obviously, you don’t want to completely go through somebody on a yellow. It didn’t change too much – I can’t think of any moments honestly, maybe a little.”

On what he got his mom for her birthday:

“We got her a card, dinner and something from the Apple Store, but that was on my dad. Me and my brothers got her the dinner and I got her the goal.”

On what the false nine looked like in training:

“I think we have so many players that can adjust in so many different ways. I think when you have that, it makes everyone better throughout the team. So, I think we just go with the flow of how we want to play, what players we have on the field – in a defensive way and an attacking way. In that sense, we just know who we’re playing with and know their strengths and weaknesses. I think in that way, no matter how we play, we adjust to it.”

Atlanta United Midfielder Matheus Rossetto:

On only missing one pass tonight and if he remembers which one:

“No, I don’t remember which one (laughing).”

On if this is his best performance with Atlanta United:

“I would say yes. Last year was really hard because of the pandemic. That delayed my adaptation to the league and the team. The first semester of this year, I had a couple injuries plus the coaching change made it difficult. Now, I’m trying to get better every day in training and show the coaching staff why I was brought to Atlanta.”

On where he feels more comfortable on the pitch:

“I have to adapt to play the best I can. No matter if I play in the “six” role or in the “eight.” The coach gave me total freedom tonight and so I went to keep the play and help Santi (Santiago Sosa) today. But, I train every day to be the best I can, regardless of position, in order to help the team.”

On if having another Brazilian on team has helped him relax and acclimate more:

“Yeah it definitely helps. He helps me with communication, both on and off the field. I spend time with him and I’m also helping him with his adaptation to MLS and to Atlanta. He brings a lot of happiness to the team and that helps.”

On if the team needed another Brazilian to bring that energy to the squad:

“For me, for sure because I love what Luiz (Araujo) brings to the team. But I have a great relationship with Erik Lopez (Paraguay) and with all our players from South America.”

On if he has any contact with the Brazilian players from Orlando:

“I have a good relationship with them. I played against Antonio Carlos when he was at Palmeiras, and I have a good relationship with Junior Urso and we communicate after games.”

On adapting to the pace of play in MLS and if the game has slowed down this season:

“Yes for sure. The play here in MLS is a lot more intense compared to Brazil. In Brazil, it’s more possession and playing the ball at feet and a little more “chill” if you want to say that. It took me a while to adapt. Now that I’m playing consistently, I’m getting used to this style.”

I’ll also throw in one extra quote from Gonzalo Pineda from the FS1 broadcast after the match. Stu Holden asked “Is it time to fear Atlanta United?” to which Gonzo replies, “Not yet.” He clearly believes he can elevate this team higher, and if so, the rest of MLS should absolutely be concerned.

Campbell and Rossetto are players we don’t normally get to hear from, but they both just came off probably their best game wearing the Five Stripes. In many ways, this game and the quotes afterward answered a lot of questions everyone had after the Nashville game. Pineda made some tactical changes that allowed the players to have plenty of freedom to use their natural talent while keeping the flow of the game concentrated in a way that favored Atlanta. Campbell and Rossetto are clear examples of this.

The goal moving forward is, surprisingly, figuring out how to incorporate Josef back into the lineup while keeping the dominant midfield performance we saw tonight. Regardless, this game should instill a lot of confidence into the players and supporters because at times, Atlanta looked like they were just toying with the purple-cats-from-Disney. The performance was like night-and-day compared to earlier this year and 2020; these guys were quite literally smiling and having fun during the warm-ups:

So my prediction was a bit off, but I’ll take it.