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Diagnosing Atlanta United’s captain and leadership hole in wake of Brad Guzan’s injury

The injuries continue to pile on, and the goalkeeper’s injury may cause more problems than anticipated for Gonzalo Pineda.

Atlanta United FC v DC United Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Atlanta United is dealing with an injury crisis, and the club captain is the latest victim.

Brad Guzan suffered an achilles injury in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with FC Cincinnati, leaving Gonzalo Pineda with more issues to worry about than simply putting another goalkeeper in between the sticks. Atlanta United confirmed Monday that Guzan suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, but we don’t know exactly the timeline for Guzan’s return (if at all).

“I don’t want to talk about the details about the injury, but it doesn’t look good. That’s why I’m sad, it’s not about the result or the performance, it’s about Brad’s injury,” Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda said post game. “I have to wait for the scans and tests that they are going to do. No, it was not a knee injury, it was an achilles injury.”

For starters, Brad Guzan has been at the club since the summer of the inaugural 2017 season and leads the club in appearances at 165 across all competitions. What’s even crazier is that all of those appearances are starts. Guzan is the definition of consistent availability for the Five Stripes.

Diverting away from the numbers and looking at the humanistic aspect of this injury blow, it was obvious that the team was rattled by the goalkeeper hitting the ground in such excruciating pain. Pineda, center back Miles Robinson and left back Andrew Gutman all seemed to be deeply affected by the situation.

“Its definitely devastating. He means so much to this team. He is a true leader. His energy is contagious. Obviously, he’s a veteran,” Miles said. “It’s definitely tough for us. Especially me, you know, he’s been a leader in my career so far. So definitely tough to take in, but it’s something you got to process with time.

‘At this point you’re just used to having Brad back there you know, he’s always been he’s always been back there. Every game pretty much I played for Atlanta United, so you just get used to him, you understand what he wants, and he demands the very most at all times.”

Nashville SC v Atlanta United Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

This issue is compounded with other injuries that Atlanta United is currently dealing with. Of course, I’m referring to Josef Martinez and Ozzie Alonso. The latter only joined the Five Stripes ahead of the 2022 season, but he quickly and unsurprisingly — considering his vast amount of experience in Major League Soccer — emerged as a leader on this team.

That’s what makes this situation so tough for Pineda. On the field, who is going to be the vocal leader who can rally the troops when the team is in a tough moment? Who’s going to direct the traffic, organize the defense on set pieces, and make sure the players on staying true to the task at hand?

Leaders on the field don’t need to wear the armband. To my recollection, Josef has only worn the armband on one occasion. But Atlanta doesn’t have many guys available that have been considered the de facto and de jure leaders on the field before.

Miles took the armband Saturday night after Guzan was stretchered off the field. He’s been at the club since 2017 when Atlanta United drafted him in the SuperDraft and recently made his 100th start for the Five Stripes against Charlotte FC. He has 114 total appearances for Atlanta United, with the next closest on the current roster being Brooks Lennon at 68 appearances. Based off time spent at the club and quality on the field, Miles is the most obvious choice to don the armband. If it is him who takes on that mantle, it’ll be a next step in his career.

Knowing Pineda and how he operates, he’s probably going to find a solution to this and call on guys to step up in this difficult moment.