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Gonzalo Pineda: I See a Complete Squad

Everyone stepped up in the Five Stripes’ opening match

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United is back, y’all. Granted, Dom Dwyer scoring a beaut in an Atlanta jersey and Caleb Wiley hitting fifth gear to open up his scoring account on his MLS debut were NOT in the conversation recently, but sometimes it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised. Credit needs to be given where it’s due, though, and every player who set foot on the pitch for the Five Stripes’ first 2022 match contributed effectively to the most cohesive and fun team the fans have seen in quite some time.

Gonzalo Pineda and the front office need to be acknowledged for the way this has all played out. From clear Pineda-esque signings (Alonso) to the front office needing to find a true backup to Josef, the roster that has been built for this team in 2022 stepped up in a big way. Before today, there were question marks around Marcelino Moreno, Brooks Lennon, and plenty of others in regards to injuries or travel paperwork. While it was by no means a perfect performance (Hernandez needed to be more active, Rossetto missed a mark on SKC’s goal), a lot of doubt about depth was squashed today. The cherry on top is the fact that the squad kept its head above water even after Luiz Araujo’s injury, and it never felt like the overall team quality really diminished.

The post-match press conference shed a bit of light as to how Pineda feels about the team’s positional depth, and his statements echo how many supporters probably feel (hint: he feels good). Caleb Wiley was still in a bit of shock from the euphoria of slotting home that first goal, and Dom Dwyer mentioned how he apparently tried to bribe Franco Ibarra for his jersey number. Needless to say, he’ll fit right in. Congrats to both of them, and the entire team, on a wonderful start to 2022. Without further ado, below are the full statements from Atlanta United’s first post-match press conference.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda

On considering the number of players you didn’t have today, how satisfied were you with the performance and the result:

“Well, I think it’s pretty obvious that we are happy with the result and the performance as well. I think we go game by game. So, every game we try to prepare with the best squad possible available, and today was a very good standard for the players that started the game and then the subs. So, I was pleased with that. Obviously, there were moments of the game where we lost a little bit of the possession, but I felt also we were very dangerous in the possession in the final third and creating some of those half chances, right? So, we´re, maybe, we lack the killer pass, the best cross once we’re getting behind to get even more expected goals. I’m happy with the expected goals. Normally, we almost double theirs and I think that´s always the objective: create more and better chances than the opponent.

Do you have an update on Luiz Araújo?

“Not yet but obviously didn´t look good. You know, when someone feels like that after a sprint is not prognosis, but we´ll see.”

It was a hamstring though, right?

“It was.”

Are you already thinking about what this team could look like without Luiz in the short term? And the long term? Is the two-striker system something you’ve worked on?

“Well, first of all, we will go game by game. I cannot think in the long term because you never know what’s going to happen. So, to replace Luiz (Araujo), if he´s out for sure, for the next game, we have some options I think. So, you saw that Brooks (Lennon) is coming back from his injury and the ankle and then, you know, obviously Marcelino (Moreno), you saw a little bit of that with that assist. So, he´s kind of back. There might be some players from the visas process coming back. So, were regrouping and we will have alternatives. Now, the two strikers to be honest tactically is not my preference just because against back fours, you lose the numerical advantage in other parts of the field, but some version of that I can see working - where, maybe, you know Dom Dwyer runs around Josef (Martinez), and Josef just picked the right passes in between the lines or the opposite if they alternate, but not because you see Dom and Josef on the field is because we´re playing two forwards. Dom can also play a bit on the side, on the flank as we just saw today.

Do you feel that midfield creativity, is something that Almada can add to? Did you like what you saw from the midfielders today?

Well, I disagree a little bit with that statement, that we lack creativity. I think we were creative. The problem is we missed a couple chances, a couple passes, right? That’s what I was saying like we’re in those spaces creating those gaps and then the final pass was missing. So probably yes Almada for sure will help that and the delivery and the final pass, the killer pass. He´s very good at that, so obviously when he´s integrated into the team and once he´s back and we´re sure that his fitness levels are up to the standard of an MLS game, he will join the team, and hopefully, he helps on that. But I was very happy, very pleased with the three midfielders. I felt that the three did a lot of dirty job, just chasing, pressing, counter-pressing, but also making some interesting passes. I was very happy with some of those first time passes

When will Moreno be ready for 90-minutes? And with Sosa what can you tell us as to when he will be ready to come back?

“Marcelino, we have to see. We need to see how he finished. He seemed a bit tired at the end but we have to take it step by step. I tend to be more patient when it comes to players returning from injuries that are that type. But I guide myself to my department of sport science which is spectacular and they give me lots of valuable information based on data. We will see as to how it will progress.

Santiago Sosa is obviously in Argentina. He is continuing his rehabilitation. We have sent someone down last week so they could train. He was with them and feeling them out and is progressing well but we don’t have an exact date as to his comeback.”

How do you consider the play today of one of the most veteran players of the MLS, the Cuban Osvaldo Alonso; did he comply with his expectations and what can he do to reach his expectations in this new season?

“Yes, thank you Miguel, it’s really important I do think that he played a typical game of his level. A player that knows how to play offense and defense, that knows how to read the moments of the game, he knows when to stay calm, he knows when to put his leg in as well and he knows when to make defensive plays that are important. I do regret that they gave him a warning early in the game, it could be that it could be a yellow, I don’t know. I didn’t see it close but I think that Alonso is important due to experience and for his soccer. It’s a combination. For the future, we have another player that they just asked about, Santiago Sosa, when he comes back there’s going to be competition and it is what I like that I have. I have lots of areas on the field that are full of competition. I think that this will improve both and that the best will play. But today, Alonso his experience and the way he plays the game helped us tremendously.”

I see a short roster in this team. How far can it go? Josef Martinez assisted two today, but I did see that he was not at 100 percent. What needs to be done?

“Respectfully, I do disagree with the perception that there is a short roster. I think that we have a really good roster that various positions on the field we have good competition. For example, today, Alan Franco was suspended and George Campbell was able to play well in the game and for me was spectacular. There were a few passes, missed passes in the buildup but he is a player that has tremendous potential. He was seen running side by side Salloi who is one of the fastest runners in MLS and he was able to keep up with him. In the midfield we spoke about Santi, Ozzie, Ibarra, Amar, Rossetto, Emerson who is coming back from an injury. Marcelino who can go play up front next to Josef.

Dom had a great game today. We have Luiz Araujo, Thiago Almada, Jake Mulraney that last year gave us great feelings. I think that on the sides we are well protected. Today we saw Andrew Gutman, Ronald Hernandez, Brooks Lennon is back. Caleb Wiley. And in goal we have Bobby Shuttleworth as another goalie with experience. Sincerely I see a complete squad. Through time we will have the whole squad and we hope that this will allow us to continue and continue playing great soccer.”

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley

On scoring his first goal and it being a dream start:

“I don’t think it was the first touch. But it’s definitely a dream come true. I don’t score many goals that often, so when I do it’s definitely a speechless moment. When I saw it go into the back of the net, it was a huge moment for me. To do it in front of this huge crowd, in front of friends and family is something special.”

On if he remembers the goal:

“Yeah, I remember it. I did have to ask Tyler (Wolff) who passed the ball to be sure. But yeah, I remember it for sure.”

On what Coach Pineda asked him to do when coming on:

“He asked me to defend inside and out and make those runs. I know I made a couple of those runs. Andrew (Gutman) played me in once and then on the goal. Like I said, just defending inside and out and staying wide. Just make those runs is what he asked me to do.”

On if he thought an opportunity would come late in the game:

“I think towards the end, they had more of the ball I think. But, I wasn’t tired or anything so when the chance came, I just took off. I’m just glad that it went in the back of the net.”

On his emotions of making his MLS debut:

“My emotions were definitely up and down today. From being asked to go warm up in the first minutes of the game, to then coming on for my debut. So, my emotions were going up and down, but I had a feeling that I would be coming in towards the end, so I was mentally preparing for it.”

On holding onto late leads:

“Yeah, Coach Pineda has talked about it a little bit. I think it just comes down to us and our mentality. Fighting until the final whistle. No matter how hard it gets, just keep on going. I know they scored one late, but I’m happy that we were able to get one back.”

On any advice for other young players in the club:

“Just keep on dreaming. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be who you want to be. Just go out there and have fun, believe in yourself and you can achieve it.”

On how he would celebrate with his family tonight:

“My parents and sister were here. My family friends were here, too. I don’t know exactly yet how we are going to celebrate, but we will for sure.”

Atlanta United forward Dom Dwyer

On his thoughts of scoring again:

“It’s always nice to score on your first game for a new club, against your old team is bittersweet but that’s my first goal in a couple of years so I’m really happy to be part of this score and overall the team performance.”

On the team’s performance:

“We have a lot of talented players so I just knew that there might be an opportunity to play, and we just got to be ready. Like I said we have a really good squad.”

On his comeback:

“Just game by game. Atlanta believed in me so as much as I have history in many teams, I’m focused on being here right now and what I’ve done in the past is the past and now it’s the present, so I’m focused on working hard and being an important part of this group.”

On his number and his training with Josef Martinez:

“As for the number. I wanted number 14. There are some young players on this team, and someone already had number 14 and he makes a decent living so I couldn’t give him enough money for it so I’ll stick to number 4 for now and maybe I can put a 1 next to it but I’ll take what we get. Josef is an amazing player and for me to just train with him for a week and watch how he moves and build that chemistry, I’m excited to see what we can do together.”

On the fan culture and coming from Orlando:

“Yeah it’s important for me to impress the home fans. You know, but as for any other fans, it’s not important for me. I’m focused on being here now, and you know, the past is great, again, but if things happen in football and I’m here, I’m very happy.”

One more, on the goal itself. It was important because it was right before the half, which can change the way coaches talk in the locker room. How important was it for you guys?

“Yeah we were putting them under a lot of pressure. And you know, the first goal was solid, and we were looking good. And then we got the injury and it kind of set us back a few minutes. But I feel like we had the momentum and then obviously, to get a goal before the start of the second half, you know we just go into it with a little bit of a smile on our faces. The momentum shifts and we know that one more goal would probably kill off the game.“

The only thing that would’ve made this presser better would’ve been Dom Torretto Dwyer replacing every time he said “group” or “squad” with “family.” Because there’s nothing stronger than family.