Atlanta United has had an inconsistent yet exciting first half to the 2023 MLS season. There has been a lot of pressure on the club to get back to their roots that saw them lift MLS Cup in just their second season in the league. It hasn’t just been pressure on the pitch, though.
There have been shouts for technical director Carlos Bocanegra to step down after the blunder of hires/player personnel decisions made following the departure of Tata Martino. Despite a promising start to this season, the Five Stripes have looked out of sorts and all over the place lately and will look to the upcoming summer transfer window (which runs from July 5 - August 2) to ensure a stronger second half to the season.
Regarding the summer window, there are three main fronts that may decide the direction that the club takes.
In his second full season with Atlanta, Gonzalo Pineda has earned mixed reviews from the supporters. At times this season, Atlanta has played the style of football us fans expect from them: possession-based and attacking, entertaining football (see 5-1 win vs. Portland and 4-0 win vs. Colorado).
But for the majority of the season, Atlanta shows up to games as if they don’t know they’re about to play, which falls on the manager. Unfortunately for Pineda, Atlanta has too much talent to have drawn seven games thus far and conceded so many late goals to drop points from winning positions.
With Luiz Araujo going back to his native Brazil to play for Flamengo and Thiago Almada possibly leaving the club for Europe, the summer window could prove to be a fatal blow for Pineda’s tenure. If the club fails to bring in two Designated Players to adequately replace Araujo and Almada, Pineda would be in a difficult spot. While the Araujo experiment hasn’t worked out, losing Almada and not getting in an impactful replacement would spell doom for any manager.
However, bringing in the right players to fill up the open Designated Player spots could bode well for Pineda. New players could kickstart the team into playing up to their full potential (although the squad right now is quite talented on paper).
Whether or not Atlanta is able to bring in reinforcements for the second half of the season, the transfer market will have a huge effect on Gonzalo Pineda’s time in Atlanta.
The Front Office
Following Tata Martino’s exit after winning the 2018 MLS Cup, Atlanta embarked on a revolving of interim and permanent managers. The long and winding list started with Frank de Boer and four changes later ended up with Gonzalo Pineda. The front office’s decision to hire de Boer is still somewhat of a head scratcher despite his second-placed finish in 2019 along with winning the U.S. Open Cup.
Pineda was hired following de Boer’s disastrous 2020 season and Heinze’s crash course appointment and steered the club to a fifth place finish in 2021. 2022 saw the club miss the playoffs after long-term injuries to key players Miles Robinson and Brad Guzan.
The front office has also made a lot of questionable decisions on the recruitment end. They’ve found gems in Miguel Almiron and Thiago Almada. They’ve also made some moves that’ve brought a lot of skepticism.
There is the decision to not pay Julian Gressel what he probably deserved, which resulted in him being traded to D.C. United. Gressel is still the club’s all time assist leader (39) despite leaving in 2020, by the way.
Trading Darlington Nagbe was another move the club still hasn’t recovered from as he was (and still is) a top class player and key to Atlanta controlling the middle of the park . Those are just a couple in the long line of the key decisions the front office has made to drastically alter the club’s future.
The front office can always fall back on the excuse of the league’s ‘unique’ squad building rules that make it challenging to keep a squad full of top-class players. But something has to give when there have been several managers in and out of the club and the decision makers at the top have remained (other than the addition of Garth Lagerway).
The summer window reckons to be a busy time for the front office with outgoings and incomings on the horizon. Will the front office do their part to help bring this club back to glory?
Not only is the summer window huge for the front office and Pineda, it’s also huge for the club as a collective. Atlanta United desperately needs to get back to being the winning club they once were in their first few years in MLS.
Failure to properly reinforce the squad during the summer could lead to many changes in the offseason. Or, the club may believe that they want to retool the squad in preparation for a bigger and better 2024.
If Almada is to leave, will the club find the next big thing in South America? Will they do what’s best for the club and plan not only for the present, but the future as well?
Atlanta United’s supporters still top the attendance charts despite their team’s recent struggles. The club must have a plan set in place to pay back the support of their fans, as they’ve missed the playoffs in the last two out of three seasons after establishing themselves as an elite name in MLS the first three years in the league.
The club has set high standards for themselves after competing for trophies early on and spending big frequently in the transfer market. They are a club that has to be competing at the highest level on all fronts.
Failure to make smart, shrewd decisions in the summer on all three fronts could lead to more frustrations among the supporters and set the club back.