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De’s Nuggets: Rocking The Boat

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Frank de Boer’s post-match thoughts analyzed.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Atlanta United at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Wow, that was divisive. I’m not sure I’ve seen more hot takes about a match, both during and afterward, spread across #ATLUTD social media. It seemed like everyone was up in each other’s mentions. We even saw the DSS family squabbling like relatives talking politics at Thanksgiving over what it all means for the team’s future.

Perhaps none of it should surprise me, given the deep valleys (much of the first half) and peaks (parts of the second half) we saw from Atlanta United. And giving up 4 goals in 12 minutes will justifiably get fans looking for a scapegoat and expressing strong opinions. Yet the truth, like Brek Shea, is always a little more complicated. Let’s quickly examine a few of the main takes I saw over the weekend.

Hot Take #1: Brad Guzan is a terrible keeper.

Truth: Yes, he left the near post wide open on the Adama Diomande goal, but he also made 6 saves, and some of them were tough to make.

Hot Take #2: Frank de Boer will never get the best out of this team. Time to fire him and move on.

Truth: Yes, the midfield and defense got carved up on Friday night. And yes, the ongoing battle between FdB and Pity is not healthy for the team. But Atlanta is still in second place in the Eastern Conference, in the semis of the Open Cup, and Barco and others will soon return from injury and gain full fitness. It’s still way too early to tell if De Boer is the right person for the job or not.

Hot Take #3 (via MLS Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle): “I’m also curious as to what kind of locker room fall-out there was after making a Barco-for-Pity sub on the hour mark when Pity was playing very, very well in this one.” (emphasis mine)

Truth: In the cold light of day, following an exhausting and weird #FiveStripesAfterDark session that made us question our own appetites, I rewatched the match in the morning. The second viewing told me a different story about Pity’s performance than what I vaguely remembered from the night before.

Pity played a pretty average game, and the stats seem to back me up. In 59 minutes, Pity had 1 shot (Josef had 5), 1 key pass (Gressel had 5 and Barco had 1), and his 60% pass completion percentage was by far the lowest of any Atlanta outfield player. However, I did think his defensive effort seemed better than in the past. In other words, Pity didn’t play poorly, but he certainly didn’t play “very, very well.”

I will admit that like many on Friday night, I was shocked to see Barco subbed on for Pity. After seeing the match again, however, I realized Pity’s one key pass of the match, a beauty to Gressel, came just a few minutes before his exit. Ah, good old recency bias.

FdB explained his reasoning behind the sub to the AJC’s Doug Roberson after the match, saying it wasn’t so much about Pity as about getting Barco into the match:

“Pity didn’t play that bad … He did in the second half what everyone did. He was aggressive. I wanted to make minutes for Barco. The only position was that position. We need him also for the season. He gets only fit. These kinds of games make him fitter.”

Now, should FdB have taken off Emerson Hyndman for Barco? That’s debatable. After all, Hyndman wasn’t playing particularly well either. He only had 1 blocked shot and 0 key passes, and yet his passing (84% completion rate) and defense were solid. Perhaps De Boer thought that with a one goal deficit against LAFC’s offensive firepower, it was too risky to move to a more aggressive XI. Or maybe he just doesn’t like Pity much. Who knows?

I share the frustration of many Five Stripes fans with the Pity situation. We paid a lot for him, we expected a lot, and things just aren’t working out yet. Is that FdB’s fault for not managing him well and not putting him in a position to succeed? Or is Pity not adjusting his game quickly enough to a different league? Will the team move back to a 4-3-3 once a left back is healthy, making room for Pity to play alongside Barco and Josef? Will he thrive in this formation?

The jury’s still out on these long-term questions. But that won’t stop the twitter takes from coming in hot, especially as Atlanta’s playoff position could change quickly as it enters a tough, 7-match stretch in August.

Buckle up for bumpy ride.