If the start of the post-Gabriel Heinze era at Atlanta United is anything to go by, better days might just be ahead for the team thanks in large part to interim head coach Rob Valentino.
Atlanta United’s record winless run reached a ninth match on Wednesday via a 1-1 road draw with FC Cincinnati, but the performance put forth by the Five Stripes in their first game since Heinze was fired as head coach this past Sunday was better than many of the recent ones. Not only did the team look a more cohesive and dangerous side, but it also rallied from being a goal down to pick up the result under Valentino.
“He is a guy we really want to fight for,” said goalkeeper Alec Kann. “He is a good guy that has a lot of relationships with the guys in the locker room that are preexisting for a of couple years. He is a guy that we respect, and we know how he works, how hard he works, how much he cares about us.
“That is the kind of manager you want to go to war for.”
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) July 22, 2021
Atlanta United demonstrated that vs. FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, finishing with 22 shots and nine on target. Both those numbers were season-highs for the Five Stripes, who had scored just twice in the previous five matches and who welcomed star striker Josef Martinez back from his recent exile with a 25-minute substitute cameo.
Of course, it took a well-taken effort from left back Ronald Hernandez in the 70th minute to give Atlanta United a share of the spoils after falling behind nine minutes earlier. Still, this was overall a step in the right direction, with Valentino leading the way.
“Performances like that are building blocks from what they have done before,” said Valentino. “I try to continue on some of the things they have done that I feel like I can add as a coach, but I am also a different coach. I will coach in different ways because it is just the way it goes.
“We worked on certain ways that we thought we could control space defensively and different ways that we thought we could go and attack at them. The boys put in a really good shift.”
It should be noted that FC Cincinnati has given up the second-most goals in MLS, but regardless this result is sure to give 10th-placed Atlanta United a dose of confidence as it tries to push its way back into the playoff picture. The Five Stripes are currently six points below the red line with a 2-4-8 record, but will have a chance to make up some ground this weekend when they return home to face the Columbus Crew.
Ending this historic winless skid once and for all is the goal, and Valentino showed on Wednesday that he just may be the person to help make that happen.
“Now that we have a new coach, he is asking different things from us and gives us a little more freedom to enjoy ourselves on the field,” said Hernandez. “I think you can see the difference with all the guys involved and the substitutes and I want to say that we never gave up during the whole game.”