Brooks Lennon has revealed how Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda has galvanized his players during his time with the club so far.
After a short spell under interim boss Rob Valentino, the Five Stripes appointed Pineda as the successor to unsuccessful boss Gabriel Heinze, who was relieved of his duties in July.
Though still not yet where they want to be, Atlanta United have enjoyed a marked improvement under the Mexican tactician. Pineda has lost just four of his 14 games in charge so far and managed to guide the club into the MLS Cup Playoffs against the odds.
The Five Stripes would lose their Round One tie against eventual winners NYCFC 2-0, but to even reach that stage was a remarkable achievement given they sat 10th in the Eastern Conference with just two wins from 13 MLS games at the time of Heinze’s departure.
“He knows players personally, he knows these teams that we’re playing, what he can expect from them,” Lennon told Atlanta United’s official website. “So, I think the main thing from Gonzalo is his experience coming in, and I thought he did a great job in that transition to get us into the playoffs.”
Pineda’s nickname is ‘El Profe’, which translates to ‘The Teacher’ or ‘The Professor’. And yes, the 39-year-old has already proven himself as an astute and flexible tactical mind.
But perhaps the most important quality he’s brought to this Atlanta United side is his personality. Where there were rumors of discontent, players now seem at ease in their environment. Birthdays are regularly celebrated and enjoyed with a cake to the face – Pineda was not exempt from that tradition he began – and the joy has returned to the club’s Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground.
Even sessions with the media, which were once cold and guarded with Heinze, have become more light-hearted and personal, with Pineda always happy to get into the weeds of a game or his tactics.
“Every single guy in that locker room is ready to fight for a guy like him,” Lennon said, adding: “Every single day at the beginning of training, he just lets us know how blessed we are to be doing what we do, and I think that right there can describe Gonzalo. He takes every day as a blessing to be able to go out into these beautiful facilities and play the game that we love and fight for the badge and for the fans.”
Young striker Jackson Conway is still trying to fight his way into Pineda’s plans, but still gave a glowing reference of his head coach’s personal touch.
“He’s brought comfort,” he said. “The way he coaches, he’s very upbeat. If you mess up, it’s okay, you can learn something new. You can always go to him and talk to him about it.”
Pineda will be hoping the togetherness of his players translates to success on the pitch when Atlanta United open their 2022 MLS campaign at home to Sporting Kansas City on February 27.