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Atlanta United’s Gonzalez Pirez: I have no problem with de Boer

Atlanta United head coach Frank De Boer coaches his team to a 4-0 victory over C.S. Herediano in their Concacaf Champions League soccer match on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Kennesaw.    Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Atlanta United head coach Frank De Boer coaches his team to a 4-0 victory over C.S. Herediano in their Concacaf Champions League soccer match on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Kennesaw. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

A day after making comments that seemingly skewered manager Frank de Boer, Atlanta United's Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said Tuesday he was quoted accurately, but that he has a good relationship with his manager and likes the recent changes made by him.

“Yesterday I read the interviews,” he said. “It looks like I’m unhappy. It’s not like that. Things are changing. This is true. We are different, but we are trying to do our best. I don’t have a problem with anybody.”

Gonzalez Pirez said he didn’t reach out to de Boer to explain the comments he made Monday after a training session in Orlando ahead of Wednesday’s MLS All-Star game.

“I don’t speak with him because I don’t have any problems with him,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “I say again, I have a good relationship with him. They asked about different things this year; I say that.”

Neither vice president Carlos Bocanegra nor de Boer were available to be interviewed Tuesday. De Boer’s next scheduled availability will be Friday ahead of Saturday’s game against the L.A. Galaxy at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Among the comments, Gonzalez Pirez said he doesn’t like de Boer’s defensive tactics. He said Atlanta United won last year’s MLS Cup by playing an attacking style of soccer. He doesn’t understand why de Boer wants the team to play defensively.

“Two years of playing the same way, which in return gave you results,” he said on Monday. “Coming out as champions, winning the league in a deserving manner. When there was no reason to change, things changed.

“But we’re professionals, we have to adapt to what the coach wants and what the sporting director wants and try to do things in the best possible manner because we share the same objective.”

On Tuesday, Gonzalez Pirez said he likes the recent switch to a 3-5-2 formation because it is allowing the team to attack and press, which are things it did the previous two years under Gerardo Martino.

“The face of the team is changing,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “This is what we want. We weren’t comfortable. I don’t know if we didn’t like it. We are more comfortable and are working to improve in these things.”

Teammate Josef Martinez, who in the days before the D.C. United game July 21 said that Atlanta United should always be attacking, said on Tuesday he doesn’t care what formation the team plays as long as it is winning.

“Important thing in soccer is to win,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if you play, 5, 2 or 1 in the back.”

Neither Martinez nor Brad Guzan would say if they thought Gonzalez Pirez’s comments were appropriate. Guzan declined to answer that question. Martinez said he respects everyone’s opinion and that he will keep his to himself.

Guzan agreed with Gonzalez Pirez that the formation switch seems to have helped. Atlanta United is 2-1 since switching from a 4-4-1-1 with 10 goals scored and four allowed.  While it is averaging 1.65 goals per match compared with 2.1 during the 2018 season, in its past three matches it is averaging 3.33 goals per game. It is the same formation, though played differently, that Martino used during last year’s playoff run.

“When you are able to put guys in their most comfortable positions and guys in areas where it allows them to try to succeed to the maximum of their potential, you start to see guys feel more comfortable and ultimately guys play better,” Guzan said. “Ultimately the team plays better. I think that’s probably more to do with it than anything.”

Another criticism Gonzalez Pirez expressed was that de Boer does talk to the players, but sometimes the message isn’t clear.

Martinez said that de Boer does communicate: “He talks. He’s not mute.”

Guzan said the communication between the manager and players is good and seemed to slightly rebuke Gonzalez Pirez.

“I don’t think the communication has been poor. I think there has been communication,” he said. “Us as players need to make sure that we are looking forward in all aspects of what we are doing.

“We all know how great last year. We can’t always look back. We have to always look forward. The communication is there amongst the coaching staff, players the coaching staff to the players, vice versa.”

Lost among the trees in the forest is that Atlanta United is having a good season.  Despite selling Miguel Almiron to Newcastle, despite de Boer still yet to play his first-choice fullbacks together because of injuries first to Franco Escobar and then to George Bello, despite injuries and absences of Ezequiel Barco and Hector Villalba for long stretches, and despite the struggles of PIty Martinez (who declined to be interviewed Tuesday), the team has 36 points and is second in the East. It trails first-place Philadelphia in the East by three points.

“We have the same objective for Atlanta United,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “This is the most important thing. This is what we do.”

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