Editor’s Note: Frank de Boer’s tenure as Atlanta United manager is off to a rocky start, and we felt it worthwhile to gather everyone on our staff (who choose to participate) to offer their takes. This post will serve as an open discussion for our group, and we encourage our readers to continue the discussion in the comments. Be civil and respectful to your fellow fan.
The good news is the sample size is extremely small, too small to make confident conclusions about the team’s overall capacity for success in 2019. The bad news is that within this small sample size are games in which Atlanta United has failed to execute on the most central objective of the sport: to create shots in your opponent’s penalty area, and to prevent the opponent from doing the same in your own penalty area. For me, the source of any optimism rests delicately on what we have not yet seen rather than anything we have seen, and my pessimism extends beyond the performances to date but further to an as yet unarticulated vision of what Frank de Boer intends to mold this team’s identity around. I anxiously await the manager laying this out more clearly in the coming weeks, and look especially forward to Pasyoninho dissecting some of de Boer’s soundbites in the brand new recurring DSS column: “de’s Nuggets.” Building a team identity in strange conditions and against fierce competition is no easy task, but in the club’s short history, we have seen it done.
the source of any optimism rests delicately on what we have not yet seen rather than anything we have seen
This is squarely where I’m at, and it’s why I’m not in panic mode yet (and far from it to be honest). But me being far from panic mode does not equate to me being unconcerned or pleased with what I’m seeing. There are flaws that need to be worked out that have been discussed ad nauseum. My frustration lies with the expectation that this team should be no worse off in its current state (with a new manager and new key player in midfield) than it was when it won MLS Cup back in December. Changes take time — something that Frank de Boer hasn’t had here yet. Since concluding training camp, the team has played four matches in just over 3 weeks. Between the first two games, when Atlanta United had a full weeklong break, we saw dramatic improvement. Since then, they’ve constantly been either in physical recovery or match prep mode. This team is flawed and we can’t expect it to get fixed until the team has ample time on the training ground.
Consider this an unofficial Taking Stock. We knew when the season ended that a transitional period was in store for Atlanta’s favorite sons. That being said, I don’t think any of us foresaw the extent of those inevitable growing pains. That being said, now that the obligatory Twitter rants are done with, let’s all calm down. As Joe said, when the team has had time to adjust, they’ve improved markedly (even in this small sample). Cast your minds back to what feels like yesterday, to the early months of United’s inaugural season: the product on the field was uneven then as it is now. The only difference is the coach in the charge and arguably higher talent levels in the players on the roster. Moreover, this is an organization that has shown us they are committed to producing an attractive style of play. We owe de Boer the patience we gave Tata. That does not mean his decision-making last night made any sense, fwiw.
Don’t you get it? Don’t you sense what’s happening? Atlanta spit in the Dread God’s face in 2018 and its disembodied force is being brought to bear on the team this year. 2019 is the year that everything is bad. Just look at the kit. The last two seasons the Five Stripes tore through the league and the gold stripes on their shoulders were the epaulets that caused teams to tremble at their Napoleonic dominance. This year the gold has been replaced by red as the team tries to put on a brave face while being covered in blood but insisting that no, actually it’s just red Adidas accents - not the life force of the team slowly draining as it tries to find an identity.
One of my main concerns coming into the season was how the team would adjust to the style of play de Boer was installing for Atlanta United. I think that this is part of it, and as mentioned there were always bound to be some growing pains as his philosophy takes shape. Having said that, de Boer’s decisions early on - starting Mikey Ambrose at right wing back, lingering to make substitutions until the very last at Monterrey, etc. - have been questionable to say the least. (That’s meant as absolutely no offense to Ambrose at all) But in some respects, you feel that he doesn’t have many choices (this team is missing Franco Escobar badly, and Julian Gressel’s injury didn’t do them any favors either).
I think there’s a place for a little concern for what we’re seeing because it’s lagging behind what we know and expect from this club. However, I also feel that fans have to avoid being prisoners of the moment, consider that the campaign is still young and presume that perhaps de Boer can, and will, make the necessary adjustments to get this team on the right track. Both schools of thought can co-exist.
J. Sam Jones
Let me preface this by saying that I absolutely hate excuses. I like to think you can count on me to give you my unadulterated and unbiased opinion on any subject without all the nonsense getting in the way. With that said, I can’t think of a worst possible scenario to start the season under a new manager with a drastically different style than the previous manager.
The transition obviously hasn’t gone smoothly, but the three games in which the team has looked poor have all been pretty tough situations. Winning away is never easy and winning away in Concacaf is nearly impossible. Couple those circumstances with de Boer’s insistence on the team learning a new style of play and realistically it was always going to be a struggle.
I’m not ready to throw in the towel on any of it quite yet. De Boer’s system could work with some tweaks. The season (apart from CCL) is not lost. The world is not crumbling around us. Even the best teams in the world go through adversity. It’s time for everyone to learn that part of being a fan is suffering through the bad along with enjoying the good. Better times are ahead. Some patience might be required to get back to the enjoyment.
Let me start this out by saying that I think it is fair to criticize why de Boer’s team has lacked an identity through these first four games. They clearly are looking to possess the ball but when they turn it over there’s a lack of urgency (not pressing) to win the ball back fast but it’s not as if they’re sitting back and trying to counter either. With this being said, however, I do think we deserve to give the front office and de Boer the benefit of the doubt. As previous stated there has been a really awful stretch of luck with mounting injuries, compacted schedule, and lots of road games.
Side tangent, firing FdB would be an absolutely awful idea at this point, not only are you not giving him a chance but you’d be sending a message to other potential coaches that there’s a short leash here, which isn’t exactly attractive.