Mired In Disappointing Season, Atlanta United Fires Coach Gonzalo Pineda

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley, left, kicks the ball as Inter Miami defender Marcelo Weigandt (57) defends during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley, left, kicks the ball as Inter Miami defender Marcelo Weigandt (57) defends during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta United fired coach Gonzalo Pineda on Monday, less than 24 hours after another loss dropped the team farther from playoff contention in Major League Soccer.

The team announced the change coming off a 3-2 home setback to Charlotte before more than 61,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

United managed only one victory — a surprising 3-1 road triumph over Lionel Messi and MLS-leading Inter Miami last week — in its final 11 games with Pineda on the sideline. The team is 1-6-4 over that span, dropping to 13th in the Eastern Conference and 24th overall in MLS.

Assistant coach Rob Valentino will take over as interim coach while Atlanta conducts the search for Pineda's successor. The team said there is no timetable for finding a replacement, indicating that Valentino will remain on the job through the rest of the season.

“We are grateful to Gonzalo for his commitment and dedication to the club over the last four seasons,” club CEO and President Garth Lagerwey said in a statement. “We made this decision in an effort to move the team in a new direction. As we continue to evaluate all aspects of our sporting operation, Rob will have our full support to turn our season around in the second half.”

United also fired assistant coaches Diego de la Torre and Eugenio Villazon. Goalkeeper coach Liam Curran will remain in his current role.

Pineda led Atlanta to a 34-34-39 record in league play after taking over the head coaching job during the 2021 season. The team made two playoff appearances during his four seasons at the helm, but was eliminated in the opening round both times.

The 41-year-old Pineda took over as United’s fourth full-time coach after serving as an assistant with the Seattle Sounders for nearly five seasons. He took over a club that quickly became one of the best in MLS after joining the league as an expansion team in 2017.

Atlanta made the playoffs in its inaugural season, won the MLS Cup in Year 2, and reached the conference final in 2019 -- developing a passionate fan base that has set numerous attendance records.

But the team has not come close to matching the success it had during the two-year tenure of its first coach, Tata Martino, or in the first year of his successor, Frank de Boer.

De Boer was fired during the pandemic-marred 2020 season after United went winless in the “MLS Is Back” tournament. Gabriel Heinze was dismissed after winning just twice in 13 games to start the ’21 campaign, a tumultuous tenure that was marred by run-ins with star striker Josef Martínez and accusations that league rules were violated during training sessions.

Pineda was hailed by United as one of the league’s most promising young coaches, but his tenure was marred by inconsistent play, baffling losses and an increasingly discontented fan base.

The loss to Charlotte was the fifth straight at home and in line with many other defeats with Pineda as coach.

United created far more scoring opportunities and grabbed a 1-0 lead, only to give up an own-goal five minutes later that tied the match. Then, in the second half, a pair of defensive lapses handed Charlotte the victory.

“I would say that in some ways the performance was similar, outplaying and creating way more chances than the opponent,” Pineda said after what turned out to be his final game. “When you don’t score the goals in key moments, you suffer.”

Atlanta came into the season with high hopes with a retooled line-up that included Giorgos Giakoumakis, Stian Gregersen and Thiago Almada as designated players. But all three have missed time because of injuries, which was a trend throughout Pineda's tenure.

More troubling, Pineda never seemed to get the best out of his squad or find a way to correct the repeated breakdowns.

“Our will to win needs to be stronger,” he said. “When you analyze the games, I think many of them have been kind of a similar story, especially the ones at home.”

Valentino has been with the club in several roles since 2018, including 10 games as interim head coach in 2021. He went 4-2-2 before Pineda took over the job.


AP MLS: https://apnews.com/hub/major-league-soccer