Despite the fact that we’re only five games in the regular season and the fact that Atlanta United is missing a player in Josef Martinez who’s considered to be the heartbeat of the entire club (much less the team, itself), Frank de Boer has found himself sitting in what’s becoming an increasingly hotter seat. Atlanta’s impotent showing in MLS is Back has brought back some bad memories of not only the first half of 2019, but it’s also starting to bring his forgettable stints at Inter Milan and Crystal Palace back to the forefront of memory.
After just 85 days as the storied Serie A club languished in 12th place, the bosses at Inter decided they’d seen enough and showed de Boer the door. Eventually, he got another chance at Crystal Palace, and they got him out of there after they started the season scoring a grand total of zero goals over their first four games. So it’s absolutely understandable to see Atlanta United fans either starting to get concerned. This is a movie that a lot of fans have seen before when it comes to teams managed by Frank de Boer.
What’s working to Frank de Boer’s advantage here with Atlanta is the fact that he’s been afforded something that he didn’t have in Italy or in England, which is time. Compared to the chances (or lack thereof) that he had with Internazionale and Crystal Palace, Atlanta United has been incredibly patient with their manager. It helps that despite all of the extremely choppy waves that de Boer and the Atlanta United squad had to navigate during the 2019 season, they still ended up winning the U.S. Open Cup and they proved that they had the talent to hang with the best that Liga MX had to offer after picking up a one-off win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium over Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League and then the Campeones Cup win against Club America.
With that being said, the internal friction that was present at times during the 2019 campaign has already started to pop up. It’s hard to take Brad Guzan’s impassioned comments following the team’s third consecutive 1-0 defeat as anything but a public call-out moment for the whole club, and a lot of eyes had to have been turning towards Frank de Boer while he was talking. Guzan saying that “there has to be a different product shown on the field” should be interpreted as both he and the rest of the squad saying that the current style of play is not sustainable and it’s not going to work in the long term. It’s brought about some of the ugliest soccer that Atlanta has played in its short history — both in terms of results and entertainment value. Atlanta quickly established itself in MLS as a winner that plays an exciting brand of soccer. Those descriptors do not apply to what we’ve seen from the club so far this season.
Now, all the blame can’t be placed solely on Frank de Boer’s shoulders. There was a large exodus of talent between the 2019 and 2020 season and fans are right to be skeptical of whether or not the replacements are up to the task of living up to the standard of play that Atlanta United is used to. This extends to the high-profile transfers as well. One of my first pieces on here was about how I felt like this was a prime opportunity for Pity Martinez to really shine for the club. While he had a decent first game, his final two games in Orlando left much to be desired. Ezequiel Barco hasn’t been playing at a level that you would expect from a player with aspirations for Europe. If it turns out that Barco and Pity are both “misses” and that their struggles aren’t just temporary, then Frank de Boer won’t be the only higher-up at the club who’s on the hot seat.
Plus, it really can’t be overstated just how much of a hole that Josef Martinez’s injury has left in the squad. While it’s difficult to replace a player of his magnitude, the current impotence in attack may be the result of some less-than-optimal roster building during the offseason. Adam Jahn and Manuel Castro have both left much to be desired in their attempts to serve as a replacement up top. While it was always going to be difficult to find a way to replicate or at least come close to the impact that Josef has had on the team, going three consecutive games (and possibly more in the future!) without scoring a goal is an abject failure.
It’s especially sad when you look at what LAFC have been able to do without having their top scorer leading the way for them in Orlando. Los Angeles has had no issues with finding the back of the net without Carlos Vela, and this is due to the fact that they made some astute offseason acquisitions that helped bolster their attack and also prepared them for a situation such as the one they’re in right now. That alone should be a sign as to which team between Atlanta United and LAFC at least had an idea of what to do if their best player went down and which team had all of their eggs in one basket. The front office deserves their fair share of blame if the season continues to go down this disappointing path.
With that being said, the on-field product has been truly dreadful to watch and Frank de Boer’s preferred style of play has been a major contributing factor to that. There have to be some changes going forward (both literally and figuratively) because if things stay the same, this could end up being a disaster season for Atlanta United once the regular season gets restarted for good.
Even with all of the criticism and the pressure that the manager is currently under, I still think that he’s going to be afforded as much time as possible to get things back to where everybody associated with Atlanta United wants them to be. I really can’t see him getting fired unless two things happen:
- Atlanta United misses the playoffs entirely, which would mean that the season went completely off the rails in terms of results.
- There’s an even bigger locker room mutiny than the one that happened last season, which would likely result in Frank de Boer completely losing the confidence of the team.
If one of those things happens (particularly the first thing), then I think Frank de Boer could end up be fired. If both of those things happen, then it’s a certainty. Either way, it’s definitely a scenario that will become more and more feasible for as long as the team continues to spin its wheels in the mud under de Boer’s management during these strange times.