Pineda promises a better Atlanta United through passion

Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda promised his team would be more passionate and competitive when it hosts Real Salt Lake on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

ExploreApologies, team meeting follow Atlanta United’s home loss

His comments followed a 3-0 loss to Austin on Saturday that was followed by a 70-minute team meeting and then an apology to the team’s supporters. The team has won only one of its past eight MLS games and is just three points from last place in the Eastern Conference despite having the most expensive roster in the league.

“We’re going to put more desire to the things we do, I want to start with better choices in the lineups, and I’m going to make sure that everybody fights,” he said.

Pineda didn’t want to share his methods for instilling more fight when asked how it’s going to happen now if it hasn’t been present in the team’s previous 18 games. Pineda would only say that he his ways for making it happen.

Captain Josef Martinez said he “100 percent agrees” with the manager that the team isn’t showing enough fight. He said it’s been happening since the beginning of the season. He also refused to let injuries be a reason. The team has had 19 players miss games because of injuries this season.

“We play because we have to play but in the training some people don’t have that energy,” he said. “Some people don’t know what they have to do, or they don’t recognize or appreciate the jersey and what we’ve been doing for a long time and probably that’s the biggest problem.

“And if you don’t come here for 100 percent, probably you don’t have to choose to play at this club. That’s the message for everyone.”

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Pineda spoke before Martinez following Saturday’s game, but he also referenced that perhaps some attitudes and efforts should have been corrected a while ago. Some of those were the subject of the team meeting.

“When you are on the good route, then no one perceives no one cares,” he said. “And you kind of let things go because we’re okay, so don’t touch it, right?

“But when it starts to happen like this, that there are little things that we need to fix, and no one talks about, we need to put everything on the table and say ‘okay, that’s one, who wants to say something about it?

The comments by Pineda and Martinez bring to mind two pivotal moments from the team’s past. The first was the loss at Toronto in the 2018 season finale. Atlanta United was trying to clinch the Supporters’ Shield but was played off the pitch by the hosts.

The loss resulted in then-manager Gerardo Martino putting in a defensive-focused five-man back line, instead of a four-man, for the playoffs. It helped the team win its first championship.

The second was a team meeting in 2019 under then-manager Frank de Boer sometime around a 2-0 loss at Columbus, which was played in a rain storm. Like Saturday’s meeting, the meeting in 2019 was focused on frustrations and expectations.

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Atlanta United would go on to win the Campeones Cup, the U.S. Open Cup and come within minutes of playing for the MLS Cup for the second consecutive year.

“I’m the first one to recognize that we’ve had bad games,” Martinez said. “And we’ve also brought many good games. And we’ve brought this city a lot of joy. But it’s a strange year and that’s life. Sometimes we have to fight with what we have and move forward.”

Pineda said the work would begin in training. Instead of tactics, Pineda said the team will work on its passion and the players’ techniques.

He also said there will be a focus on improving the defense, which has allowed nine goals in the past four games. The group includes two players, right fullback Aiden McFadden and goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo, who weren’t on the roster at the beginning of the season but are now because of injuries to numerous players ahead of them on the depth chart. The other starting fullback is 17-year-old Caleb Wiley, who is also learning on the job.

“We have a bunch of kids that do everything I ask for, they do their very, very best,” Pineda said. “And that’s what I want to inspire the whole team to do every day: the very, very best ..... I’m pretty sure that next game we’re gonna look very, very different.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 5:30 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE