What Atlanta United can expect from Gonzalo Pineda after fresh attacking promise

Pineda has promised 'attack-minded' football at Atlanta United - but supporters have been let down on that promise before.
Pineda has promised 'attack-minded' football at Atlanta United - but supporters have been let down on that promise before. / Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United finally ended their search for a new head coach to replace Gabriel Heinze with the hiring of Gonzalo Pineda on Thursday.

The former Mexico international was a title-winner in his homeland with Pumas and Deportivo Guadalajara during his playing days as a centre-back and defensive midfielder, while he also lifted US Open Cup and Supporters' Shield trophies with the Seattle Sounders in 2014.

Pineda went on to become an assistant coach with the Sounders and over the last four years, has helped Brian Schmetzer lead the club to three MLS Cup appearances, winning in 2016. At 38, he is the youngest-ever permanent Atlanta United manager.

So, what can fans expect of Pineda's Atlanta United, and what should realistic targets be for the immediate future?

How will Atlanta United play under Gonzalo Pineda?

"Attack-minded, always on the front foot," Pineda responded when asked at a press conference what style of play he intends to implement at Atlanta United.

He added: "We’re going to play with passion, intensity. I want a team that represents the fans, that’s the connection I want to build."

Now, it would be understandable for Five Stripes supporters to be wary. After all, they were promised an 'attack-minded' style of play upon the appointment of Heinze back in December.

“Since we launched Atlanta United, our objective has been clear to play an aggressive, attack-minded style of play,” vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra said at the time. “Gabriel fits that mould and has a dynamic playing style that aligns with the identity of our club."

And upon the hiring of Frank de Boer at the start of the 2019 season, Bocanegra declared: “His tactics feature an attacking, high-intensity style that mirrors our approach to the game."

Ultimately, Atlanta United fans were served up with overly-methodical, laborious approaches, with their side routinely dominating possession but rarely showing cutting edge in the final third, even if De Boer did deliver US Open Cup and Campeones Cup titles in his first season.

This season alone, the Five Stripes are first in MLS for average possession (58.3%) and second for pass completion (84.3%), but 20th for Expected Goals (20.9) and 15th for shots on target (69).

But according to reports by those close to the situation, Pineda was responsible for a large amount of the tactical responsibilities during his time at the Sounders. Seattle would often switch between possession and counter-attacking styles dependent on their opponent, something that has played a vital role in their deep playoff runs over the past four years.

And even more promising for supporters is that Pineda has already voiced his admiration for the style of play implemented at Atlanta by interim boss Rob Valentino.

The 35-year-old has taken charge of five games so far - with another two to go before Pineda takes over - with the Five Stripes scoring eight goals during that time and taking four points from their last two games after firing a blank in four of Heinze's last five games.

"I don’t have to come and change things, especially because Rob Valentino has done a tremendous job," said Pineda.

A number of fans were calling for Valentino to be given until the end of the current campaign to prove his worth, such has been his effect on Atlanta United's attacking play, with the club's DPs, Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco responding well to his methods, as well as former DP Marcelino Moreno.

If Pineda can continue the great work started by Valentino, that'll definitely be one in the W column regardless of where Atlanta finish, with fans craving the sort of high-octane play that became a feature of the club under Tata Martino in 2017 and 2018.

What are realistic goals to set Pineda for the rest of 2021?

At the time of writing, Atlanta United sit 10th in the Eastern Conference but despite beating the Columbus Crew 3-2 last time out, they remain six points adrift of the reigning MLS Cup champions in the final playoff spot.

That said, the Five Stripes face an LAFC side enduring a five-game winless run and the East's bottom-dwellers Toronto FC in Valentino's final two games. It's not beyond reason that the situation could have improved considerably by the time Pineda actually assumes control of the team.

What's more, with new DP forward Luiz Araujo arriving from French champions Lille, Atlanta's attack - which has laboured at times this season - is set for a serious injection of quality. A tantalising prospect with Martinez also looking closer and closer to returning to his pre-ACL injury form.

Not giving up on this season, club president Darren Eales told reporters: “As you all know, the great thing about MLS, you just need to get in the playoffs. Then anything is possible.”

Atlanta United's remaining fixtures are split down the middle. On the one hand, they face seemingly favourable ties against the likes of Inter Miami and FC Cincinnati, who are battling at the foot of the Eastern Conference. On the other, rivalry games against high-flying Orlando City and Nashville SC will be no easy task, and neither will October's home tie against NYCFC, who have the second-best offensive and defensive records in the East.

Will Pineda get a 'new-manager bounce' from his players, or will there be an adjustment period? That is all yet to play out.

Right now, rather than fixating on a particular place in the table, Atlanta United fans should genuinely start to become excited at the prospect of their side once again becoming one of the most entertaining in MLS and when that happens in this league, with all its high-profile forwards, success usually follows.