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De’s Nuggets: Atlanta United needs runners, but from where?

Making sense of the manager’s post-game press conference after a 1-1 draw vs. FC Cincinnati

MLS: FC Cincinnati at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

When I took this De’s Nuggets beat, I figured there might be a few interesting quotes per match. Some nights might have only one or two. Others might even yield three!

I never expected such a geyser of controversial, and at times confusing remarks that erupted during last night’s post-match presser. To be fair, English is not De Boer’s first language and perhaps some of his quotes can be chalked up being lost in translation. However, many of things were slightly baffling to the Fives Stripes faithful, starting from the top:

“I think we want to dominate to create chances, and we had too many of them.”

Too many chances? Say what now?

“Again, a home game, everybody wants to see Gonzalo (Martínez), and that’s normal, so that’s why we put him in.”

You started Pity Martinez on short rest with a CCL match coming up on Wednesday because you knew the home fans wanted to see him play? That was the main reason?

“They played all of last season, every important game, in this system, so they know exactly what to do.”

Played in a 3-4-3 all season? No, they didn’t. Did you mean Atlanta often played with three center backs last year? Perhaps, though Tata’s 3-5-2 worked differently than De Boer’s system.

“I didn’t think it was fair because everybody worked very hard and gave 100 percent.”

Here, FdB insinuates the fans were booing the players, when the far more likely reason is the team’s stultifying tactical gameplan and lackluster style of play. He then finished it off with the night’s coup de grâce:

“Everybody was spoiled with the results of last season, so everyone has expectations, and that’s normal, but everybody also saw what happened with Toronto FC when they played in the Champions League last season.”

All in all, it was a press conference that will give the team’s media relations office heartburn for days.

Given most, if not all, of these quotes have been making the rounds on twitter today, I thought I’d focus in on something he said multiple times—that his players weren’t making enough dangerous runs in behind Cincinnati’s backline. Cincy looked happy to allow Atlanta the time and space to pass the ball around the back, which made for great possession numbers, but very few dangerous attacks. Here is talking about it:

“[FC Cincinnati] tucked in quite good, and they were quite organized, so that makes it difficult to create chances. I think we have to recognize to play a little bit of a different style. We have to have runners behind their last line, and I think in the second half we saw much more of that. In the second half, I think we created more chances than in the first half. When we scored to make it 1-0, they still tucked in on their own half, and it’s very difficult to create chances, but you have to have runners, and we did much better with that in the second half.” [emphasis added]

“[FC Cincinnati] are waiting for us to play the balls through the middle and then trying to counter us. That’s what I said, try to look more for runners behind their last line, and you saw the goal was a run like that from Josef Martínez. In the first half, we also had a little chance from Eric Remedi making a run behind the last line. Pity just didn’t reach one from about half a centimeter, so every time we created chances, we did it with dangerous runners.”

I’m with De Boer here, at least at the top half of this block quote. As he said, the Atlanta United goal came from a great ball Julian Gressel played in behind the Cincy defense to Josef, who did what he always does when presented with opportunities. FdB is arguing the team do this nearly often enough, making it easy for Cincy to cede possession at or near the final third and allow the Five Stripes to pass the ball sideways or backwards. Speaking of, that’s exactly what Barco was doing most of the match:

Pity’s pass chart below shows he attempted more dangerous passes into the penalty area, but he couldn’t complete most of them because the only target available was Josef, who was always heavily marked.

It’s unclear to me who else, besides Josef, De Boer envisions making these runs in behind. Even if Pity and Barco were the types of speedy players to cut towards goal, there’s just no space for them to get through the channels. Take a look at this handy chart Joe Patrick created to show how congested Cincy made things for Atlanta’s 3-4-3:

And though De Boer commended a run made by Eric Remedi, that can only happen so often without leaving the center of the field dangerously exposed to a counterattack. Meanwhile, Gressel and Shea will continue to provide width down the flanks, not the center of the field, and there’s no way Jeff Larentowicz should go that deep into the final third very often.

But you know who would be willing and able make the sorts of runs De Boer wants? Tito Villalba. And yet, De Boer opted not to bring him in, even choosing to sub on non-speedster Kevin Kratz in the closing minutes of a tied match. Like many of us, I’m confused by a lot of what I’m seeing, and I’m not sure if De Boer can tweak things to make the Atlanta attack more penetrating, or if he’ll decide to switch formations entirely before too long.

We’ll all just have to wait and see, starting this coming Wednesday night against Monterrey.