Atlanta United has sort of become Seattle Sounders South over the past few years. First it was Osvaldo Alonso, then Gonzalo Pineda and now Garth Lagerwey who went to Atlanta. Lucky for us, they fell into the very capable of hands of Dirty South Soccer. Rob Usry was good enough to answer our questions this week:
SaH: Both the Sounders and Five Stripes are underperforming expectations. In Atlanta’s case it seems they’ve struggle on the road more than typical. Does Gonzalo Pineda change up tactics or is something else going on when y’all leave the South?
DSS: Unfortunately, the club’s struggles away from home haven’t been limited to Pineda’s tenure. We all know winning away from home in MLS is difficult, but Atlanta have been spectacularly bad at it the last four years. To Gonzo’s credit, he’s done everything he can to scrape some points in away matches. Whether it’s switching from a four-back to a three-back or changing up the personnel, he’s doing all he can to give his side the best chance to grind out the occasional point or three. Personally, I think it comes down to the type of players Atlanta are recruiting. In the early years, having grizzled veterans like Jeff Larentowicz and Michael Parkhurst around helped a ton. But now, with a convoluted roster without much of a veteran presence it’s tough going for the team in those harsh road conditions.
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SaH: The midseason rebuild took in a lot of money and added new talent. Of the new players who will make the biggest impact if United win at Lumen? Will those changes save Gonzalo and/or Carlos Bocanegra’s jobs?
DSS: It’s been an interesting transfer window for the Five Stripes. Despite not bringing in a huge signing, they’ve seemed to do well in bolstering their depth. However, bringing in signings and actually getting them on the field are two different things. Getting work permits and visas sorted have been a logistical nightmare of late. So, I’ll go with a boring answer and say Tristan Muyumba will be key if Atlanta get something out of this match, since he’s virtually guaranteed a place in the starting lineup. The French midfielder made his debut in the team’s elimination against Cruz Azul in Leagues Cup and was a revelation. Atlanta have had a huge hole in midfield since Darlington Nagbe departed and Muyumba’s first 90 minutes on the field have fans optimistic he can help fill that void. He is a box-to-box player with exceptional technical skill and the ability to get in the box and make things happen.
As far as job security goes; who the heck knows? If we’re talking about accountability for results and decisions Bocanegra should’ve been shown the door a while ago with how bad the roster was managed under his watch. Yet here we are in a massive rebuild with the same technical director in the mix. Pineda’s case is a bit more cloudy. Half of the fan base is predictably calling for him to be canned because the team has been pretty bad. However, there’s the other half who are willing to blame the poor roster construction and want to see what we can do with better players. I honestly have no idea what the future holds for both, but making the playoffs or not could play a huge role in those decisions.
SaH: Giorgos Giakoumakis emerged as a bit of a cult hero in Atlanta. What does he bring to the pitch?
DSS: Not sure we can call him a cult hero when he’s trying to fill the shoes of a literal hero of the club, but early signs are positive. One of the biggest things Giorgos brings is heart and work rate. The guy just has an ultimate desire to score goals and work for the team. Sometimes it even comes as a detriment as that non-stop engine has landed him in the injury room with some hamstring issues. But you have to love the determination he brings to the team. Once he learns that life in MLS is a bit more physically demanding and he has to hone in that work rate, he’ll be a great asset for the club.