Atlanta United fires coach Heinze after disappointing start
ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta United’s disappointing record was only part of the reason coach Gabriel Heinze lost his job Sunday.
Team president Darren Eales said a feud between Heinze and the team’s top player, Josef Martinez, was not part of the decision. Eales said other undisclosed issues led to the firing.
“Over the last really couple of months there have been some issues that were concerning us that were not really related to the performance on the pitch or the Josef issue and that culminated in our decision today,” Eales said.
Assistant coach Rob Valentino was named interim head coach. Eales and technical director Carlos Bocanegra will begin a search for a full-time replacement.
Valentino is the team’s fourth coach in a year, and Eales said he feels the pressure to deliver a winner with his next hire.
“We have to get the next hire right,” Eales said. “We know that’s important. ... We’re going to do our due diligence to find the right fit.”
Eales said he will look for “a leader who is not only committed to a high competitive standard but embodies also a cultural fit and who we are as a club.”
Atlanta United parted ways with Frank de Boer last July. Stephen Glass finished out the year as interim coach before Heinze was hired. Heinze joined Atlanta United in 2020 after less than three full years at Argentine club Velez Sarsfield.
Atlanta United was 2-4-7 under Heinze and 10th in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re disappointed in the fact we’re not above the playoff line,” Eales said.
Martinez was not injured but did not play in Atlanta United’s 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday night. He had been training apart from the team before returning on Sunday.
Eales said Martinez and Heinze “had a chat” on Saturday and Martinez returned to “full training here today at the training ground.”
“As far as Josef is concerned, that didn’t play a factor in our decision,” Eales said. “... That was two big personalities. You get that in soccer where personalities will clash.”
Eales and Bocanegra would not say what other issues led to the firing.
“Our of respect for Gabi we’re not going to air everything out,” Bocanegra said. “We’ve had a number of concerning issues over the past several months and the process of evaluating them brought us to this decision today.
“It was clear this decision needed to be made.”
Eales noted that a priority for the coach is building the MLS. In that regard, he said access with fans and media is important.
“It’s about carrying yourself in the right way,” Eales said.
Eales said there was “no ultimatum” from Martinez, but he said the young star is under pressure to lead under the new coach.
“He’s a leader in that dressing room and he’s got a lot of onus on him because we need him to step up,” Eales said. “He is a leader on this team and we need him leading this team because we know we still have a chance to make something happen this season.”
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