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Fire midfielder Gastón Giménez on what it means to face his old manager, Atlanta United’s Gabriel Heinze

The two had success together at Vélez Sarsfield in Argentina. But will the familiarity mean an advantage for either team?

SOCCER: APR 17 MLS - New England Revolution at Chicago Fire FC
Gaston Gimenez dribbles the ball during the Fire’s 2-2 draw with New England at Soldier Field
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Chicago Fire midfielder Gastón Giménez takes the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this Saturday against Atlanta United (7 p.m. CT, WGN-TV, CFFC Live), he’ll see a very familiar face on the opposing sideline. His old coach at Vélez Sarsfield in Argentina, Gabriel Heinze, is now the head man in Atlanta.

“Maybe the fact of having spent so much time with him makes it so that I know how he plays and he also knows how I play,” Giménez said through a translator of the opportunity to face his old boss. “And that makes the game — I’m not really sure how to say it, but maybe different for me. But it’s not more than that. He has gone his own way and I’ve come my own way, and hopefully when we meet up, we’ll be able to do things right and come away from that game with the three points.”

Giménez joined Vélez in the summer of 2018, a few months after Heinze signed on to manage the club. “Tonga” would be a vital part of Heinze’s lineups over the next couple seasons, to the point where when it became clear Giménez was about to join the Fire, Heinze fought to keep him through the end of the Superliga campaign last March. Vélez finished third in the league table, only trailing giants Boca Juniors and River Plate.

Boca Jrs. v Velez - Copa de la Superliga 2019
Gastón Gimênez while at Vélez Sarsfield
Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

Heinze’s insistence on keeping Giménez meant he couldn’t join the Fire until the second match of the 2020 MLS season. Shortly after Giménez departed, Heinze also left Vélez, and signed on to coach Atlanta in January 2021.

“It was a pleasure to coach Gastón,” Heinze said this week in Spanish. “I will thank him. Because of him, I am a better coach.”

With the two so closely linked, Fire head coach Raphael Wicky said he discussed the upcoming match with Giménez, to confirm what he was seeing on video.

“We’ve talked a little bit but we also have a coaching staff, we have an analysis department and we watch the games and we know what to expect,” Wicky said. “But yes, I have spoken with him a little bit about certain things but there is nothing different he told me than what we saw.”

Velez Sarsfield v Lanus - Copa De La Superliga 2019
Gabriel Heinze at Vélez Sarsfield
Photo by Gustavo Garello/Jam Media/Getty Images

Giménez insists the match isn’t any more special than any other. He says the Fire, who were winless in road matches in 2020, need to pick up all three points in Atlanta. If that comes at the expense of an old friend, so be it.

“I always said that I wish him the best of luck and I’m really grateful for what he was able to teach me and what I was able to learn from him,” Giménez said. “But we are now each with our own different team and we are each looking to do what’s best for our team. And yeah, I do know a lot about him, and he also knows me very, very well. We just wish each other a lot of luck and each one of us is looking to do what’s best for where we are right now.”