How Rob Valentino turned Atlanta United’s season

Atlanta United’s turnaround under Rob Valentino has been quite remarkable.

At the end of Gabriel Heinze’s short time, the Five Stripes were tenth in the Eastern Conference with just two wins from 13 MLS matches. More worryingly, the team was free from new ideas or the confidence to try them.

Heinze’s spell was no success / Michael Reaves / Getty Images

Fast forward just over a month and the picture is very different. Atlanta is now jointly in seventh place in the East and is enjoying a winning streak of four games for the first time in MLS games since August 2019.

“I told the boys this morning that I hope to include the human element,” Valentino said in his role as interim manager. “When it comes to tactics, I will do my best. We will all do our best to turn the results around. Take more risks, create more chances, score more goals and win matches. But in the end, we are dealing with people. We have to do with people. ”

Although performances have not been perfect during Valentino, they have been fun. Atlanta plays with more purpose and like Marcelino Moreno and Ezequiel Barco seem much more willing and confident to drive the ball forward and take those risks. Josef Martinez is back among the goals (four in his last five matches). And at midfield, real chemistry emerges between Miles Robinson, Alan Franco and Anton Walkes.

Atlanta attempted 20.75 take-ons per game under Valentino compared to 16.54 under Heinze. Great chances created are up to 1.38 from 0.46, shots on goal 5.13 from 3.69 and attempts to pass into the last third 119.38 from 96.23.

Again, rather than something too tactical, it’s all about confidence and the “freedom” Valentino has given his players.

The Eastern Conference table under Rob Valentino’s temporary spelling responsible for #ATLUTD. Does he deserve so much credit?

– Chris Smith ⚽✍️ (@ CJSmith91) August 22, 2021

“It was not a thing. It was not just like a magic switch. I think he gave a lot of confidence to the group, says Brad Guzan when asked about the key to Valentino’s turnaround after Atlanta’s 2-1 win over DC United on Saturday.

“I think he put a lot of faith in guys to go and I do not want to say play freely, but play freely within the team and how we wanted to play as a group. So, you started to see guys express themselves. You started to see the guys’ ability individually and quality in what they could bring to the team.

“When you have that quality in the group and you have an idea of ​​what you’re trying to do as eleven guys on the pitch and then the little quality shines through, more times than not good things will happen.”

One of the greatest benefactors of the Valentino era has been Marcelino Moreno. The Argentine scored four goals and one assist in the eight MLS games under his interim manager (including the winner vs. DC), compared to three and one, respectively, in 13 games under Heinze. In addition, the 27-year-old is finally starting to look like the difference maker Atlanta signed him to be last year, quickly turning defense into attack with runs and precision driving.

Moreno nutmeg on Gressel in the build-up to the goal. Pure savagery! #ATLUTD

– Chris Smith ⚽✍️ (@ CJSmith91) August 22, 2021

“I think there is a difference in the system,” Moreno replied when asked to compare Valentino and Heinze after the DC win. “There are two different systems and two coaches who had different thoughts and how they look at the game. Somehow you have Gabriel who was a little more possessive and defensive. Then you have Rob who in his opinion will attack and score goals.”

So does Valentino’s front-legged style Moreno fit more?

“I think so because I have more freedom when I attack,” Moreno concluded, pointing again to the “freedom” Valentino has given him and his teammates.

Valentino’s term of office is now over and fans can look forward to new coach Gonzalo Pineda taking over. The Mexican has already expressed his admiration for the style implemented by Valentino, who will stay in Atlanta United’s staff.

“I do not need to come and change things, especially because Rob Valentino has done a fantastic job,” Pineda said during his first press conference.

“I’m excited to see where it goes, because we can’t just stay here,” Valentino said on Saturday. “We are close, but look at the realistic position we are in. We have to get better, we have to be higher up the table. There is a lot of work left, but we are happy for the moment and we will celebrate this moment. . ”

He’s not the only one excited. So far, Atlanta United’s season looked like another write-off. Now they are on their way to the playoffs with supporters who can finally look up the table of who will catch the next one.

Gonzalo Pineda will take over / Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

They have the league’s deadliest goal scorer back in shape. Behind him, there is a supporting role with the talent to do real damage after the season, guided by a manager who is famous for much of the tactical genius behind Seattle Sounder’s recent successes.

And once again, self-confidence and freedom flow through the club.

It has not been done yet, but there is no doubt that Valentino has laid the foundation for Pineda to make 2021 a year of success for Atlanta United.

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