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Atlanta United players want to win for Valentino Outlet

As much as Atlanta United would like to win a second consecutive league game for the first time since March 2020, winning it for interim manager Rob Valentino would be an added bonus.

Valentino has been in charge for the past five games, during which the team is 1-2-2, after Gabriel Heinze was fired.

Knowing that the job was only temporary, Valentino threw himself into the responsibilities. He will continue to do that as he leads the team Sunday against LAFC and Wednesday against Toronto. New manager Gonzalo Pineda will take over Thursday.

“It’s been like that from the start because of the respect that he has from everybody in the building, not just players, not just support staff. You won’t find a harder working person inside that building over there,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “... For the next few games, we want to make sure that we not only pick up points for ourselves and for the club, but you know, being able to send him off in terms of his managerial position. That part is an added bonus.”

Valentino has done more than just stabilize the club after the firing of Gabriel Heinze after only 13 games. He has helped rebuild an identity that seemed all but gone.

In its most recent game, a 3-2 win at Columbus, Atlanta United once again played “beautiful” soccer, according to striker Josef Martinez, who watched from a box because he was serving a one-game suspension.

“It was amazing because I haven’t seen it for a long time,” Martinez said.

The beautiful soccer is a product of Valentino giving the players freedom on the field. His work off the field has been just as important.

Martinez said he spent a lot of time with Valentino last year while he was completing his rehab on his surgically repaired knee. It’s time that Valentino didn’t have to spend. But he did it because he tries to create a connection with every single player.

“I really have to thank Rob for what he’s done and love for the team, and Rob is someone who feels for this club, and he loves the club,” Martinez said. “And those are the kind of people that we need here.”

As much as Valentino has enjoyed being the manager, he said he is ready to step back into his role as an assistant. He said he looks forward to learning from Pineda, who was an assistant at Seattle after a standout career as a player in Mexico.

“I said at the beginning, ‘Don’t treat me any differently because I’m not going to be in this that long,’” he said. “And I want to come from that leadership standpoint. I want to make sure that I’m always a servant to help them, and it’s about the players and in them because they’re the ones that have to go out and be the brave ones to go and play the games, and I want to make sure that no matter my title, my actions remain the same, and they can see that.”