This Atlanta United match against Austin FC was historically terrible. Not many positives can be scrounged from this match, and the overall atmosphere truly feels like the proverbial rock bottom. The team lacked fight, spirit, cohesion, and any semblance of identity in front of 67,500 loyal fans.
This comes from a place of genuine love for this club: this was probably the worst performance Atlanta United has ever had, given all circumstances. Why do I say it comes from a place of love? Because sometimes you have to be drug through the mud before you can lace up and start fighting again. This match, the fan’s despair, and the prior run of form has been some of the worst mud-dragging the Five Stripes have ever experienced, so what’s the catalyst that helps the club build itself back up? Perhaps that answer came behind closed doors in the confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s locker room during the rather lengthy conference delay after the final whistle.
This post-match press conference was enlightening, both because of what was said and what wasn’t said...to the public, at least. First, Gonzalo Pineda and the Atlanta United staff, who tend to be rather punctual in terms of press conferences, were alarmingly late to this one. In fact, they were so late that there is likely some sort of fine incoming for violating MLS media availability rules. Maybe there’s some optimism to be had in the sense that Gonzalo Pineda possibly just had one of the greatest locker room rants of all time that’ll magically turn the season around. Maybe pissed Pineda is a good thing, because if the team is preaching fight and spirit, it has to come from the top. Or maybe that’s all empty hopes and dreams.
still waiting— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) July 10, 2022
anyone have any fun ways to pass the time? https://t.co/dfUf3RCIPE
Let’s quickly hearken back to the last time the locker room had issues. Atlanta United found a way to make the playoffs after winning only 2 matches out of 11 and firing a new head coach. Prior to that, the locker room instigated some change in a season where they then went on to win a Campeones and U.S. Open Cup. So no, this isn’t necessarily bad. It may, in fact, be a good thing. The fans will surely see in the coming weeks if anything substantial changes. But only winning one match against playoff contenders in 61 attempts is not good, and is a sign this team is not built for any sort of legitimate fight. It also begs the question: why does the locker room continue to have to be the setting for any legitimate change?
Pineda finally emerged to speak with the media and immediately apologized to everyone, including the fans, before stating that the night was entirely unacceptable. It was a sentiment that hadn’t changed since his clear irritation at halftime.
Pineda tells @JillianSakovits he’s changing things up at halftime. Specifically mentions personnel changes and essentially that the defense is…no bueno. Visibly pissed.— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) July 9, 2022
The full conversation is below, and it’s safe to say we haven’t seen this side of Pineda. He was not happy at all with the product on the field and he took responsibility in that it’s entirely up to him to change Atlanta’s situation. In terms of the delay in the conference, he only mentioned that they “were in a long meeting with the players.” This was later clarified to mean that both the players and staff took the time to air out some issues and “express” their opinions. But then came the real drama.
Josef Martinez, who has admittedly been at the helm of just about every team paradigm shift since Atlanta won the MLS Cup in 2018, laid out some rather heavy words about the club as a whole. Now, understand English is not Josef’s primary language; he didn’t go on an angry tirade, but he did not mince his words when asked about the team and the result. Specifically, one comment worth mentioning was pretty clearly a shot at the front office in reference to how the club has handled introducing players solely for business as opposed to implementing those who genuinely want to play for Atlanta United.
JM: "That's the message for everyone. If you want to bring guys, it's because they want to play here. It's not because business. And has been for a long time."— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) July 10, 2022
During this conversation, Josef also mentioned a couple of times that he potentially only has one year left with the club. Before diving into that comment, everyone is well aware of how much Josef loves this city. However, it seems increasingly likely that anything less than the front office making some serious moves to build a team rather than build star power, and he’s seriously contemplating future options.
Josef’s words seem ominous in the sense that Atlanta United as a club doesn’t know how to identify itself, and everyone is suffering. Treading water isn’t even a valid metaphor anymore, the club is drowning. Is the club strictly a business trying to buy young, South American talent low and flip them to Europe? Are they trying to establish a dynasty and be a legitimate trophy contender every year? Are they wanting to cycle the homegrowns and amateurs upwards into first team minutes before determining whether they want to keep or sell them? None of us know the answer, which takes us back to the initial jab at the front office: what is this club doing?
We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments after checking out everything that Pineda, Josef, and Purata (poor Purata and Gudiño, what have they walked into) had to say after the match.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda
“First I want to apologize to you guys, I was late, we were in a long meeting with the players. I apologize to the fans, they don’t deserve this, they do an amazing job of supporting us and are always being there for us, and today’s performance was unacceptable.
On how they’ll do better:
“We’re going to put more desire to the things we do, I want to start with better choices in the lineups, and I’m going to make sure that everybody fights.
On how he’ll get that done:
“I have my ways to do it, I already addressed that and we will be fighting much better next time. [The team discussion] was a platform to express ourselves and I think good things were the outcome of that conversation.”
On trying to fight more:
“We always want to play good, and you can see that the team at times progresses the ball very well against a solid team that came here to be in the middle block and to try and counter. They were trying to break through counterattacks and they did very successfully. I think it’s not only about tactics anymore, yes we still want to play good football, but today I felt we weren’t ready to fight in the game that they presented to us. I felt that I didn’t prepare the team properly.”
On the lack of fight/energy:
“I didn’t expect this, the first half the first two crosses that they did were goals, and the third was a very, very close-off side that should have been another goal. I feel like it is not a secret, we have to do better defensively. I will try to re-evaluate how I approach the team style because at times we still want to be on the front foot, but obviously, we are conceding a lot of goals.”
Atlanta United defender Juanjo Purata:
On being with a new team:
“I’ve been training with the team for three weeks. I am available and I am ready for whatever the coach needs of me. If he needs me for 90 minutes, if he needs me for 10 or 15 minutes, I am here and I am ready to play and work.”
On the players needing to fight for each other more:
“I think every person just has to give the best of themselves, to always give their best, and to be there to help out their teammates. I said it when I got here, that I think this club is up for big things and I still believe that. I think that we will get ourselves out of this. Everyone just has to give their best because we are capable of great things.”
On his most comfortable position:
“I think I’m comfortable playing as a center back on either side. The right side or on the left side. I can play both. I am comfortable with both profiles so just whatever the team needs of me.”
Atlanta United forward Josef Martínez
On what happened tonight
“This happened months ago so it’s not a surprise for us. We played like this months ago.”
On Pineda saying the team needs to show more fight for each other and if it hasn’t been happening, how’s it going to start Wednesday night?
“I don’t know. You guys are journalists. You can analyze it better than us from the outside. What was said in here will stay in here. And you can have your opinions out there whenever you want. You guys decide what you want. Since 2017 a lot of things have changed so there aren’t any surprises. We have a lot of players injured. They came here and played better than us and deserved to win so it’s not a surprise that we lost.”
On Gonzalo’s comments about seeing a different team on Wednesday against Salt Lake and how that will happen
“Soccer. Sometimes you can win, sometimes you can lose. It’s a sport. Probably, we have to apologize to the people who came here to watch the best soccer. Probably, it’s not the best day for us. We try to fight. They were a better team than us. The next game is the next game. You never know what can happen in the next game.”
On what this team has been in the past and what it is now
“It would be wrong for me to speak about the team in the past. I think for me it could also be my last season here. I will try to give my best. Everyone has to think about what they did wrong. There are many things that we can’t control. Again, we have to apologize to the people who came here and have seen this team for many years. There are things we can’t control. We’re playing with what we have and the players that we have. Life is gone. Life keeps going, you have to keep going.”
On if he agrees with coach’s comments that the team isn’t fighting for each other enough on the field
“Yeah, actually, 100 percent. This didn’t happen today, it happened at the beginning of the season. We play because we have to play but in the training some people don’t have that energy. Some people don’t know what they have to do, or they don’t recognize or appreciate the jersey and what we’ve been doing for a long time and probably that’s the biggest problem. The injuries isn’t the biggest problem. We play soccer and you can have injuries every day. And some people still think “oh, because we lost this guy, this guy…” We all make mistakes and we are professionals. We’re not kids anymore. And if you come here you have to know what you have to do. And if you don’t come here for 100 percent, probably you don’t have to choose to play at this club. That’s the message for everyone. If you want to brings guys here, it’s because they want to play here and it’s not because of business, and that’s been happening for a long time.”
As a leader and captain, if he’s spoken to these players about his concerns
“Yes, and it could also be my fault. Maybe, as they say, the tree that always bears the most fruit is the one that’s also picked the most. I’m the first one to recognize that we’ve had bad games. And we’ve also brought many good games. And we’ve brought this city a lot of joy. But it’s a strange year and that’s life. Sometimes we have to fight with what we have and move forward. The people who are with us know, like the 70,000 people who were here tonight know, that they’re with us. And we hope the good times come back again.”
On his comments that he wants to stay here as long as the team wants him. Are you thinking of possibly leaving?
“I still have one year. I enjoy every day because I have to say “thank you God” bringing me back to the field. I try to do my best. Sometimes I can play good, sometimes not. Sometimes I can score, sometimes not. I put my whole body on the fucking field and this is not discussed. But, you know, it’s soccer, it’s life. Probably this team needs more different players and we think about it.”
"Some players ... don't appreciate the jersey, what we've [done] for a long time. The injuries are not the problem."— Justin Felder (@Justin_FOX5) July 10, 2022
Strong comments from @JosefMartinez17 after Atlanta United's 3-0 loss tonight. Full answer below is worth a listen. pic.twitter.com/Wj1KTjsC7W
And as usual, be sure to listen to your weekly therapy session from after the match where we discussed, vented, ranted, angrily jested, and otherwise tried not to cry. 558 people successfully held back tears.