Position: Head Coach
2021 Games: 14 (7W-3D-4L, 1.71ppm)
What went right in 2021
Simple math proves that it’s a whole lot easier to change the manager than the entire starting eleven of a soccer club, and Atlanta United brought that sentiment to life in 2021. Gabriel Heinze clearly wasn’t a fit, so out he went. Rob Valentino got results but lacked tactical nuance worthy of a permanent manager. The spinning wheel finally settled on Seattle assistant Gonzalo Pineda, who was named full-time manager in August. The Mexican continued the good spell of form from the Valentino days and guided Atlanta to the 5th seed in the East with 7 wins, 3 draws, and 4 losses in 14 games. A dominant 3-0 win over Orlando in Pineda’s second game in charge was the highlight of his first half-season in charge. High-scoring victories over Cincinnati and DC followed and Atlanta seemed like a sure bet for a playoff appearance, if not a home game. There was a reemergence of a feeling of fun around the Five Stripes and the results had followed suit.
What to improve in 2022
After that 3-2 win over DC in September, the goals dried up. Atlanta conceded just 13 across Pineda’s entire tenure but its 20 goals scored was far from stellar. In the final ten games of the season, the Five Stripes averaged exactly one goal a game, scoring two goals a game just three times. Atlanta’s reliance on individual quality (which can make sense when you have an attack as talented as BAMM) seemed to be wearing down and the lack of a clear tactical plan was becoming glaring. Now that Pineda has had a full offseason with the team, the expectation will be that the Five Stripes will look like a far more cohesive unit come opening day. The full-time shift to a back four should help, while the departure of dribbling addicted Ezequiel Barco will help the attack flow smoother in general. The midfield, which was one of Atlanta’s biggest weaknesses in recent years, is set up for success as well. Ozzie Alonso will offer a midfield anchor to build from and Santiago Sosa should only get better with more experience. The big question, though, is whether Pineda will be up to the task of crafting a winning machine as manager.
2022 Season Outlook
Atlanta should be near the top of the Eastern Conference no matter what, and it’s on Pineda to make it happen. I think he has all of the knowledge and talent to become a first-class manager in the not so far off future, but first, he has to improve off the solid foundation he built last season. The constant chopping and churning in the managerial role will hopefully be stopped by Pineda’s appointment. Now, though, it’s time for Pineda to turn ideas into results.