As seasons passed, a feeling of borrowed time was expressed when discussing Gonzalo Pineda and Djimi Traore’s tenure with the Sounders FC.
That time expired this week.
The highly regarded former Sounders players turned assistant coaches announced they’ve accepted bigger roles elsewhere. Pineda will remain within MLS to become Atlanta United’s fourth head coach, the club announced Thursday.
Traore, a Frenchman who helped Liverpool win the 2005 UEFA Champions League title, is expected to take a leadership position with a club in Europe. Those details are to be announced in the near future, according to the Sounders.
“When you are offered Atlanta United, you go for it,” Pineda said during a videoconference call with media. “They’ve been successful since the very beginning. They have had fantastic players. They have now a fantastic group of players. They have a fantastic stadium, great fans, which is one of the main things I was pumped to join the club — because of the fans, the stadium, the training facilities. It’s a whole package with Atlanta United that is attractive for many coaches.”
Two of Pineda’s predecessors were fired, but he spoke confidently about the stability of the club. His contract runs through the 2024 season. Pineda plans to retain Valentino and keepers coach Liam Curran, adding Diego de la Torre, who recently served as head coach at Cafetaleros de Chiapas in Mexico, to the mix.
Pineda isn’t expected to make his head-coaching debut until the road match against D.C. United at Audi Field. He disclosed Thursday he missed Seattle’s historic 3-0 Leagues Cup win against Liga MX side Tigres UANL on Tuesday because he tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival at Lumen Field.
“I cannot tell you enough of how awkward of a situation it is for me, but it happens,” Pineda said of testing positive during the coaching interview process despite being vaccinated. A portion of the talks with Atlanta were on a yacht off the coast of Alaska. “We’re living in this world and it’s probably a good reminder for everyone to take care of themselves and to get vaccinated. I’m fully vaccinated and have less chances to have a bad COVID situation. But, again, in football, in life, in any part of the world, there are tough situations, there are difficult situations and it’s how you overcome those situations — control what you can control.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer often credits Pineda as the tactical specialist on his staff since Pineda was hired as an assistant in 2017. In-game adjustments have led to playoff wins and unexpected comebacks.
Traore’s imprint on the team can be spotted in the development of Nouhou as a first-time All-Star defender. Traore and Pineda also helped devise the Sounders’ current switch to a two-forward, three-center-back starting formation.
“It is with a heavy heart that I leave Seattle, a city that has treated me like one of its own,” Traore said in a news release. “This next opportunity is one I could not pass up, as it will allow me to further develop my professional skill set in new and exciting ways. Seattle will always be a second home to me, and I wish everyone in this organization the best going forward.”
Pineda (Spanish) and Traore (French) being bilingual also helped blend Seattle’s international rosters quickly. Their departure currently leaves the bulk of the communication translation to the team’s bilingual players.
The Sounders didn’t specify when the positions would be filled. Pineda and Traore’s departures are part of a theme this season. Chris Henderson, the club’s former sporting director and vice president of soccer, left for a similar position with Inter Miami CF. Other shake-ups were injury-related in the loss of Jordan Morris (knee), Stefan Frei (blood clots) and Jordy Delem (knee).
“While this is a day I thought may happen, it is not easy to say goodbye to such accomplished players like Djimi and Gonzo, who transformed stellar playing careers into becoming two of the best young coaches in MLS,” Schmetzer said in a news release. “I could not be happier for the new opportunities in front of them. They have been essential pieces of our club’s success, both on and off the pitch. I have so much respect for their effort and dedication to help this club achieve success. I know they will be successful in the next chapter of their coaching careers.”
Pineda, a former Mexico national team and Liga MX star, finished his career with the Sounders. The central midfielder played from 2014-15, starting 45 of his 56 MLS regular-season appearances. Seattle won the 2014 Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup with Pineda in the lineup.
Pineda, 38, dabbled in broadcasting before accepting an assistant-coaching position with Seattle in 2017. As part of Schmetzer’s staff, Pineda made three MLS Cup appearances and won the championship in 2019.
Traore, 41, also finished a decorated career in Seattle from 2013-14 and playing a key role in winning the Supporters’ Shield and Open Cup in 2014. Traore was an assistant for Seattle’s USL squad in 2015 where he helped develop youth players. He was on staff for the 2016 MLS Cup win in addition to the 2019 title.
Club captain Nico Lodeiro recently returned from a knee injury that required surgery in May. The Rave Green (9-3-6) are second in the MLS Western Conference standings. Seattle’s roughest stretch of the season begins Sunday with a Cascadia Cup derby at the Portland Timbers’ Providence Park. The Sounders then play road matches at FC Dallas (Wednesday) and Columbus Crew (Aug. 21).