Atlanta United’s dismal 2022 season has finally drawn its last breath. The campaign wasn’t what anyone expected, it certainly wasn’t what fans wanted, and for the second time in three years the supporters are left watching the playoffs from behind the glass window. A late Andrew Goatman goal couldn’t erase a two goal deficit against NYCFC Sunday afternoon, leaving the Five Stripes with one final home loss heading into the offseason.
The club now sits in a position where there appear to be more questions than answers. What’s happening with Josef Martinez? Who’s going to be the new president? Will the new president truly be able to right the ship? Which players stay and who moves on? Dependent upon the previous question, what style will Atlanta United have in 2023? What’s going on with Atlanta United’s scouting and analytics department and will the club throw some more money at building up these ‘behind-the-scenes’ folks that are so crucial?
Ultimately, the next four months are likely going to be a roller coaster for Atlanta United and its fans, so buckle up. In the meantime, check out what Gonzalo Pineda and Luiz Araujo had to say after the final match of the season. And yes, somewhere in between Pineda’s comments and Araujo’s comments, media did ask to speak with Josef Martinez. His only response as he pointed to different parts of the locker room was, “Pineda is over there, and Bocanegra is over there,” implying that any questions about him, the state of the club, etc, could be handled by those two. Take it for what it’s worth, but between his frustrations, his emotional response on the pitch after the final whistle, and the other well-documented episodes of Josef’s comments, it continues to seem like El Rey won’t be in Atlanta jersey come 2023 unless there is a drastic change somewhere in the club.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On how he would categorize this season for himself and for the team
“Well, obviously, not a good season because we didn’t at least make playoffs, which for me should be a must for our franchise because our standard’s higher than just making playoffs. That’s for sure, so in that sense, it wasn’t a good year for us and for me personally as a coach. Once I said that and yes, the real evaluation will take a little bit more time. I can tell you that many, many things happened to this team throughout the season. It seems, when I started to kind of think how I’m going to analyze the season, it seems like there’s three different teams out there. The one we started, then the injuries came and then we played kind of the middle of the season with a different team and then, the last part, we have a little bit more consistency. So it’s hard evaluate the whole season or the players, maybe individually, where they lose a little bit their partners, right? So it’s really hard for me now to think how to evaluate the entire season. But we will and we will find the best way to evaluate everything and for sure, the objective and the beginning of the 2023 is now. And now we will think what we need to correct, what we need to do to make sure that next year is a great year. So I want to say that I really appreciate the fans today, they were all the way with us. Their passion and the way they showed today, even without anything to fight for in terms of playoffs or no playoffs, they showed that they care about the team. They showed that they support us. So next year will be for them and we start today.”
On Santiago Sosa’s suspension
“First, it’s not an acceptable behavior or language that we want here in Atlanta United, for sure. Starting with that. So we will make sure that all of us, we educate ourselves, a reminder for all of us to understand what is acceptable and what is not. Because that’s number one. Number two is that Santi knows what he did, knows that it’s incorrect and he apologized. So I think it should be a bigger process for all of us, not just Santi. I want to focus on that because you probably know, Felipe, that in our Latin America cultures, those types of words, we were educated a little bit like that. Even though that’s not acceptable, I know that for sure. We have to educate our minds on those terms, because I agree that those types of languages are not correct.”
On how far away this roster is from being an MLS Cup-winning caliber roster
“Well, what roster? The one that finished the season or the one that started? Because it’s different. I feel that the first one that started was closer, a little bit than the second one. The second one came out of a little bit the necessity due to many injuries and we tried to re-do a lot of things without a lot of salary cap. We tried to do what we could. Some of those players that came in were really positive, were good signings for the team. But I feel that once we regain Brad Guzan, Miles Robinson, Ozzie Alonso, the stability of the team is better. I think that’s a championship-caliber team. We have to see in other positions where we can even improve the team but that will be a part of the analysis that I’ve been talking about.”
On how difficult it’s been to coach “three different teams
“It’s a very good question. Because part of my reflection that I already started, probably in the middle of the week, was after all the injuries and all the dysfunctional things that happened, right? Because we have to say it’s not just Miles, Ozzie and Brad, it was in the fifth game, it was Rossetto and it was Josef [Martínez]. Then at some point in the middle of the season, three full backs at the same time missed at least nine games altogether. So it was, kind of, what we planned in preseason, the type of football that we wanted to play. Even the goalkeepers, for example. Rocco [Ríos Novo], Raúl [Gudiño], they didn’t train the whole preseason to know how we were playing out from the back or unbalancing the opponents and the movements and the tactics that went in behind throughout the preseason. And then, I made the choice of continuing with the same style and the same identity of the team. Because it was going to be very hard for me to tell them, ‘Okay, no more playing out the back. No more possession-based team trying to unbalance opponents, breaking lines. Let’s play direct.’ I don’t know if I had, also, the players to do that style. I prefer to stick to what we did in preseason and at some points, we saw the benefits of good games. That we did very good games but at the end we couldn’t get the result, maybe for the final product, what we always discuss in both boxes, lack of sharpness. That’s what happened. It’s a very interesting reflection for me now, saying ‘Okay, this happened 30 percent of the season and then, how did I manage that?’ That’s part of the reflection that I will take but certainly, it was very hard to do what I just explained.”
On what he’ll be doing to better himself from a coaching standpoint
From a coaching perspective it’s to reevaluate a little bit what’s the best game model to succeed in Atlanta United based on the players that we have and the ones that we might bring. So that’s kind of the part of the reflection that I will do for next year. Then a little bit of talking about methodology and some of the cultural improvements that we did in our building and how we are going to even improve that to create an even more professional environment for our players to be a bit more accountable for things that have happened in terms of management and discipline and stuff like that. So those areas for me are the key ones: the game model, the methodology, and the culture and we’ll re-evaluate that. Altogether because it’s not just me, it’s my whole coaching staff that has been with me the whole time and I’m very proud of what they’ve done with me. They will help me for sure to rise in a better way next year.
On adapting or adjusting his style and formation next season.
I would say there are two things: one is the style and then the game model, and the game model is coming with the players. The style has to be dictated not just by me but the type of players that I have. I mean if I have two tall number nines that are very good in direct play and then I have two fast wingers to attack on the back and then I have two, I don’t know how to say it better, bulldogs in the middle of the field that win every second ball, why not playing direct winning those balls? And then yeah if I have that maybe I adjust my style to that, but I don’t have that, what I have, and which I’m really happy to have, is technical players that are willing to combine very well, that are willing to unbalance the opponent through passing, breaking lines, trying to create more and better chances than the opponent. I have the ability on the flank to isolate people 1v1, get crosses. I have good number nines so I feel that we should do something similar to what we have done. Now, once I said that based on specific players that we will bring and the specific players that may stay, I will try to say ‘OK, now the style is this, maybe the formation is this, whether it is back 3, back 4, whether we play with a diamond, whether we play with three midfielders, whether we play with two in a 4-4-2,’ so that will change but this style might be remaining or tweaking little things. I would say it’s going to be very hard for all of us to change completely the style that we play. We want the same style but obviously with better outcome, because if you check a little bit on the numbers one of the teams with with more expected goals is us, one of the teams with more possession is us. We felt in these two boxes is where we were lacking a little bit of sharpness, not just quality, but sharpness because we have the quality but probably we couldn’t be that sharp in the final touch. So, we might tweak something but we have to see what we have.
Atlanta United forward Luiz Araújo
On this season and his performance
“This season was not a good season for all of us. We suffered a lot of injuries this year and that affected the team a lot, but we know that we have to work on a lot of things for next season”
On what affected his performance this season
“I think that it was my first full season here in Atlanta. I can do better, I worked really hard this year and I will continue to work hard. It was not a good year for all of us, but I am going to continue working and hope to have a better year to help the team and win a championship for Atlanta.”
On wanting to return to the team next season
“Yes, I have a contract with Atlanta, I want to come back here and win here. It is the reason why I came here, so I want to give my best to the team and help us win titles.”
On if the stress, or seeming stress, about Josef Martínez affected the team
“No, Josef is a great player, one of the best players in MLS. He’s a king here in Atlanta. But we are professionals. We know what we have to do on the field. The off the field things are for Carlos (Bocanegra) or Gonzalo (Pineda) to solve and we have to be concentrated, focused when we enter the field.”
On having played at a high level in France and what he thinks the team is missing to compete for titles
“I think here we have a great team with players with a lot of quality. I think we missed a little the presence of players with a lot of experience like Brad Guzan, Miles Robinson, Ozzie Alonso. The team has to have young players but also players with experience, like what happened in France. The first year, we had young players and we suffered a lot. Then we mixed in experienced players with youth and we won the league. I think injuries affected us a lot.”
On the team being disappointed but if he feels like the team is united and motivated for next year
“Yes, we’re united. Today you can see we ran until the last minutes to try to tie the game at least. We’re frustrated not to get into playoffs. We have a great team and have to be there. There are things we will learn from and improve so that next year will be different, better, and we’ll compete with every team.”
As usual, come have a listen to the final regularly scheduled Twitter Spaces of the season, and keep an ear out for some more as we hit on any of the inevitable offseason shakeups that happen. Thanks so much for y’all’s support throughout the season, despite the ultimate outcome of the team’s campaign.