Pineda believes Atlanta United can keep improving its mentality

Gonzalo Pineda said he wants to continue the improving Atlanta United’s mentality during the offseason and into next season.

The team suffered from two mental lapses in its season-ending 2-0 loss at NYCFC on Sunday in the first round of the MLS playoffs.

“Today it was again proven to me the heart of the team that they never gave up,” he said. “I love it when a team never gives up. Down 2-0, playing away, and the team showed character and tried to create chances and push to win the game. Those things to me are valuable. I’m very proud of the heart of the team in general.”

Though they continued to fight, the lapses proved to be the difference.

Both came when the team was defending set pieces.

Both resulted in the decisive goals.

Neither were the first time it has happened this season.

Dropping points because of switching off mentally was the only negative for the team under interim manager Rob Valentino and Gonzalo Pineda. A win against Toronto turned into a draw. A win against NYCFC turned into a draw. A draw against Philadelphia turned into a loss. Those are a few examples. During the season, the team dropped 13 points from games in which it led going into the 75th minute.

“With a full preseason, with everyone fit and ready to go, I think we can improve a lot,” Pineda said. “The experiences we had this year, like the one in Philadelphia, or some of the games where we dropped points at home in the final minutes through set pieces. Those lessons are going to help us in the future.”

The players should be credited for continuing to put themselves in position to win games. Valentino took over a team almost broken by previous manager Gabriel Heinze. When Heinze was fired in mid-July, the team hadn’t won in almost two months and had scored 13 goals and earned 13 points from its first 13 games. The team also lost starting midfielder Emerson Hyndman to a season-ending knee injury, as well as injuries or setbacks with several players throughout the season.

Valentino restored the confidence by letting them play aggressively, going 4-2-2. Pineda took over, wisely kept Valentino on staff, and went 7-3-3. The team finished the regular season unbeaten in six and was one of the hottest teams in the MLS over the final three months.

“It’s never easy to have a coaching change in the middle of the season,” fullback Brooks Lennon said. “Credit to Gabi (Heinze) and his staff. I’ve said from day one that I have all the respect in the world for them, we gave everything we had under them.

“But you are going to face adversity every single season. We need to be able to face that adversity head on and keep our head down and keep working hard and get better as a team and individually. We have all the potential to do that.”

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