Atlanta United interim manager Rob Valentino says Gonzalo Pineda was in touch after Sunday’s 1-0 win over LAFC.
Pineda signed a deal through the 2024 season to become Gabriel Heinze’s replacement last week. However, the former Mexico international is only set to take over from Valentino following the Five Stripes’ home tie against Toronto FC on Wednesday night due to a positive Covid-19 test.
In the meantime, Valentino continues to lead Atlanta’s revival. Sunday’s victory, which came courtesy of a 46th-minute Josef Martinez strike, is the first time they’ve won back-to-back MLS games this season. Under Valentino, the Five Stripes have now taken seven points from four games.
Speaking to reporters after the match, Valentino revealed Pineda sent a text to congratulate him and the players on the result.
“I checked my phone real quick because I thought he might text,” said Valentino. “He said ‘very good job’ and that he was proud of the boys.
“I can’t compliment that guy enough. I can’t imagine how hard it is to get this opportunity and not be here. But I’ve been in contact with him. For me, he is with us, he is part of this, we want to make sure that message is portrayed. When he gets here, we will welcome him with open arms and we’ll get on with our work.”
After a tough first half where LAFC could have easily gone ahead, Atlanta got to work quickly following the break.
The Five Stripes turned defence into attack with one Marcelino Moreno pass, before Ezequiel Barco raced free to provide Martinez with an easy finish just a minute after half-time.
It was Martinez’s third consecutive goal, two of which have now been assisted by Barco.
On their relationship, Martinez described Barco as ‘like a son’, and that their closeness is what is behind their connection on the field.
“That’s my guy. He’s like my son,” Martinez told reporters. “We have a good relationship, so I’m happy. I tried to find, you know, my partner and I have a good relationship with him. I like him.
“I say, ‘thank you,’ because we talk a lot about assists, my goal and stuff like that. And that’s why I told him ‘thank you’. I like to see him like that.”
When asked if he could forge a partnership with Barco similar to that he enjoyed with Miguel Almiron in 2018, Martinez responded: “I don’t like to make comparisons. Miguel is unique. (Julian) Gressel, after Miguel, is unique. I would like to have him again.
“And Barquito is special. He’s like my son. You have to love him. There are days he understands more than others but he’s improving. The other day he scored a golazo. I’m glad for him because we’ve shared a lot of moments, good and not so good, and I see a sensitive person. You have to know how to treat him, give him advice, talk to him; because when he’s in form, he’s a difference-maker for us.
“We were joking with him in the locker room because he’s got two assists in a year and it’s like a record. I’m very happy for him because I love him and I have a good relationship with him and his family.”