Gonzalo Pineda faces the hot seat again as Atlanta United tackles LAFC in round 14 of Major League Soccer

Can Atlanta unlatch the steel gate backline of LAFC without the services of midfield maestro Thiago Almada?
Atlanta United v Los Angeles Football Club
Atlanta United v Los Angeles Football Club / Shaun Clark/GettyImages

Former MLS champion Atlanta United returns to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium this Saturday for another tricky Major League Soccer encounter with Los Angeles Football Club. Both teams are no strangers to each other and have always served up a treat for the fans whenever they cross paths.  

Atlanta United started the season on fire, registering three wins and a draw at home; since then, they have found garnering points both home and away tricky. Since their last victory on the last day of March, they are now winless in eight games, the longest winless drought in the club's history. Coach Gonzalo Pineda has been in the hot seat for over a month and is desperate for a fortune turnaround. The team lacks balance, defensive solidity, and attacking stamina, making them formidable opponents to break down any line of defense.

Sitting 11th in the Eastern Conference with only 13 points from 13 matches, that turnaround is expected to start on Saturday, and hopefully, he can kick on from a turnaround of fortune. There is a grand adage that echos, ’when it rains, it pours’; things cannot get any worse for coach Pineda as his marquee player and World Cup winner, Thiago Almada is the latest injury victim on his extensive list. Almada is known for his vision, technical skill, and ability to alter the dynamics of a game single-handedly. However, Almada was seen training lightly on Thursday, hence, the final verdict on his availability will be announced on Friday. Joining him on the sideline due to injury is Tyler Wolff, a promising young striker who offers speed and agility, providing Atlanta with potential attacking prowess, Noah Cobb the steel in the heart of the defense with his crunching tackles and his adept ability to read the game, and leading talisman Georgios Giakoumakis, who offers some dynamics upfront with his versatility, height and strength. 

Irrespective of their table position, the Five Stripes do not lack individual talent. They just have not yet hit second gear collectively, leaving fans and pundits alike pondering what next. Luckily, as they prepare to tackle LAFC, Atlanta United will be boosted by the availability of Jamal Thiare, Xande Silva, Daniel Williams, and Daniel Rios.  

“I think we are on the right path,” said Pineda. “I think it is really encouraging for the team, for the mentality of the team, to win. We did it with seven home-grown. That to me, is a testament to the team’s character. That victory with the penalties, Josh making the last two saves, and Stian (Gregersen) taking the sixth. There are many positives out of that. We have to hold onto that positivity, and the mentality of the players that fought and put that together on Saturday.”

On the other hand, LAFC has been riding high with success in the Western Conference, amassing 21 points from 13 games. LAFC dipped in the transfer market during the off-season and acquired some notable names to bolster their squad with depth and game changers such as Olivier Giroud from AC Milan, Kei Ansu Kamara from Chicago Fire, and Eduard Atuesta from Palmeiras.  

Depending on the margin of victory, LAFC could bounce to second on the table, while Atlanta United could win and be in the top ten for the first time this month. The head-to-head record between Atlanta United and LAFC adds an extra layer of intrigue and spectacle.

Atlanta has a slightly more significant advantage in the head-heads with two wins, while LAFC has secured one victory, and one game ended in a draw. Playing in Atlanta’s favor, both wins against LAFC came at home, 5-0 in 2018 and 1-0 in 2021.  

These encounters have often been closely contested, highlighting the competitive spirit and tactical battles expected from two clubs with their respective ambitions. 

Both managers might opt for tactical nuances to tilt the scales. Pineda might utilize Edwin Mosquera’s pace on the flanks to stretch LAFC’s defense. In contrast, Cherundolo could emphasize giving up possession and hitting Atlanta United on the break to try and catch their defense napping.  

GK - Guzan; RB - Lennon, CB - Gregersen, CB - Abram , LB - Wiley; DM - Slisz, DM - Muyumba; LW - Mosquera, AM - Firmino, RW - Silva; ST-Rios.