It’s a marquee MLS matchup this weekend as the Seattle Sounders travel to the deep south to take on Atlanta United. A billing that doesn’t really need any other introduction is made more interesting by the fact that Gonzalo Pineda coaching against his former team. We chatted with David McFarland from Dirty South Soccer to get the lowdown.
Sounder at Heart: Sounders fans are familiar with Gonzo Pineda. He’s an adored figure in Seattle. How’s he getting on in Atlanta?
Dirty South Soccer: Pineda definitely has not been the success story Atlanta hoped for when he took the reins late last season. Some of the reasons for that aren’t his fault (and we’ll get into that later), but the Mexican is far from free of the blame. Atlanta hasn’t shown much, if any, long-term improvement since he took over and remains heavily fixated on individual moments of magic to win games rather than any sort of cohesive tactics. Unsurprisingly, Pineda, therefore, struggles heavily against decent opponents and has one of the worst away records across the league since he took over. He also benched Thiago Almada (Atlanta’s best player this season) for no apparent reason for three games running, only for the team to look 10 times more dangerous in front of goal once the Argentine was subbed on. So while I wouldn’t fire Pineda anytime soon, it’s decisions like that and Atlanta’s complete lack of forward progress over the season that make me think he doesn’t have a long-term future here.
SAH: Not a lot seems to be going right for Atlanta this year. What’s the reason for that?
DSS: Injuries, injuries, and more injuries to start with. Atlanta’s entire starting defense has missed the majority of the season so far, including year-ending injuries to Miles Robinson and Brad Guzan, while there have been a handful of long-term knocks across the attack and midfield (Josef Martinez and Luiz Araujo have missed 2 ½ and 1 month respectively and Ozzie Alonso is out for the year). Going into Saturday, Brooks Lennon and George Campbell will both be out, with the latter picking up an injury just last week. Obviously, such a huge amount of injuries has wrecked any sort of cohesion and chemistry Atlanta may have had and turned the Five Stripes into a defensive sieve all too often. However, that’s far from all of the story. Atlanta has a below average hit right in the transfer market, given out a number of long-term, high-paying contracts to subpar players, and has a few too many pieces that don’t quite fit together. Most glaring would be the signings of Marcelino Moreno (bought for $7 million when the team was without a coach) and Thiago Almada ($16 million), two attacking midfielders. Whenever one of them plays AM, the other is shuttled out to LW where they’re uncomfortable and drift in towards the other. That’s just a microcosm of the mismanagement from the highest levels that’s been a constant over the past few seasons, and I could spend hundreds of words listing even more egregious examples.
SAH: What’re the keys to Atlanta’s setup?
DSS: I wasn’t aware we had any to be honest. I would say Atlanta has looked its best in a 3-4-3 shape but Seattle probably won’t get to see that since one starting centerback (Campbell) just picked up a 3-week injury last weekend. The Sounders should keep an eye out for Almada, capable of making something out of nothing; leading scorer Ronaldo Cisneros and his runs in behind; and Jose Juan Purata, a recent signing that’s provided an immediate boost to the backline and looks the real deal. Brazilian winger Luiz Araujo is also capable of moments of magic but lacks an end product, while Martinez isn’t 100% physically and seems on a completely different page than the rest of the attack.
You can read the reverse questions at Dirty South Soccer.