Rob Valentino spoke to his Atlanta United team Wednesday about the beautiful struggle ahead of Wednesday’s game at Cincinnati.

It was a fitting speech because three guys who are familiar with things not always coming easily helped Atlanta United earn a 1-1 draw with Cincinnati.

Valentino, surprisingly thrust into an interim manager role, a position he’s never held as a professional, when Gabriel Heinze and the rest of his staff were fired Sunday, made all the right decisions before and during the game.

One of his important decisions was handing Ronald Hernandez his first start for a first-division club team since Aug. 20, 2020, when he played the first 45 minutes for Aberdeen in Scotland. Hernandez scored Atlanta United’s tying goal with a right-footed shot in the 70th minute.

The second was handing goalkeeper Alec Kann his third consecutive start in place of Brad Guzan, who is with the U.S. at the Gold Cup. Kann, playing in only his fourth game for the club in the past four years, made five saves, including several tough ones in the first half, to keep the Five Stripes in the game long enough for the team to find an equalizer.

Speaking for himself, but it may have been for all three, Kann said, “Everyone want to play, and I’m no different. I had to wait three years to play an MLS game. I’m excited. I’m going to take advantage of the opportunities, and hopefully I can further my career in the league, which is what I’m trying to do.”

Each took a different path on their journey to Wednesday.

Caption
Atlanta United’s winless streak reached nine games as it comes away with a 1-1 draw at Cincinnati.

Hernandez arrived to Atlanta United on loan. He was a record signing for Aberdeen, but one who didn’t work out. He lost his starting job and then eventually returned home to Venezuela to be with his family during COVID-19. He joined Atlanta United knowing that the team had Brooks Lennon and George Bello as its starting fullbacks. Still, he said a few months ago that he thought he could develop into one of the better fullbacks in the league. Before Wednesday, he had received only five minutes of playing time. He played more for Venezuela during the Copa America than he had for Atlanta United.

But his play in Brazil with Venezuela, for whom he scored a goal, is among the reasons Valentino started him Wednesday.

“Then he goes and scores the goal, which I didn’t expect,” Valentino said.

Hernandez said that Valentino has given the players more freedom on offense. Hernandez’s shot and shot on goal were part of a season-high 22 and nine.

“I haven’t gotten as much playing time in the past two years,” he said. “It’s allowed me to mature more quickly, knowing that I’m here and making myself available so that when I get a chance I can take it.”

Kann’s journey involves Valentino.

Kann was one of the first players Atlanta United signed ahead of its inaugural 2017 season. A career backup in MLS, it looked as if he would get a chance to compete for a starting job for a club in hometown. But then the club signed Guzan. Kann started 18 games in 2017 before Guzan could join the team during an open transfer window. Kann moved to the bench and has barely played since. He underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason. He said Valentino spent every training day for four months with him while he rehabbed away from the team.

“He didn’t have to do that,” Kann said. “It shows me how much he cares. For it to come full circle and me getting games is special. Hopefully we can get a win for him on Saturday.”

Valentino was a first-round draft pick in 2008 by New England, but never got to play in MLS. He spent the next years playing in the lower divisions until retiring in 2015 and going into coaching.

He joined Atlanta United in January 2018 to work with Atlanta United 2. He was promoted to Frank de Boer’s staff in 2019 and then stayed on under Stephen Glass and then Heinze, and now he’s in charge.

“I’m so proud of them,” he said. “I feel they did the club proud and the city proud, and I’m looking forward to coming home on Saturday.”

For more content about Atlanta United

Follow me on Twitter @DougRobersonAJC

On Facebook at Atlanta United News Now

On Instagram at DouglasDavidRoberson

Atlanta United coverage on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

-

Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC

July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN

Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN

Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE