Atlanta United announcing on Friday that it has parted ways with manager Frank de Boer was surprising. Not in the typical way you’d be surprised by such news in any other sport. It was surprising because this type of thing rarely happens in MLS. Atlanta’s decision to go in a different direction about a year and a half after making a big-named coaching hire is a signal of intent of upholding the “big club” status it has garnered since 2017.
When you think about the traditional powerhouse soccer clubs in the world, you think about Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester United and so on. In almost every big league around the world the competitive aspect is extremely cutthroat. If a manager isn’t performing and the team’s struggles are obvious, a firing is to be expected. Now pan over to MLS where there’s nothing cutthroat about the competitiveness. Coaches sometimes last decades just by performing in the most mediocre of fashions (See: Olsen, Ben).
Since their inception, Atlanta United has built their reputation up as one of the biggest clubs in MLS with an ambition to be one of the best in all of North America. Attempting to let Frank de Boer find his way out of the deep hole he’d dug himself into would’ve been the safe play. No one really would’ve questioned it. So what if the club isn’t in first place? There are plenty of playoff spots to try and sneak into. They found a good run of form last season, who says they can’t again?
Instead, the Atlanta front office realized that there was an undeniable problem with the current situation at the club. Instead of going with the grain that most MLS clubs have laid, they made the tough decision to admit to themselves that this situation had no future. This decision in and of itself is a sign that Atlanta United’s desires and intent of being a huge club in the region are very much real.
In their 3.5 years of on-field existence this club has encountered very little in the way of turmoil. Sure there were minor incidents that caused some havoc but never anything as big as facing mass scrutiny for being a national embarrassment because of their dismal play. The decision to change managers at this juncture is perfectly in line with the club’s ambitions.
This is the first step in getting the Five Stripes back on top where they’re comfortable. Let’s be clear that this situation isn’t wholly on Frank de Boer. Other factors are at play but the admission that there is a problem and that they need to fix it is a great sign. Who knows what the future will hold, but there’s very little chance of anyone second-guessing this decision. While there may be the odd skeptic who would’ve liked to have seen De Boer given more time, the vast majority are standing and applauding the brass’ swift decision making.
Frank de Boer believes Atlanta fans should lower expectations, saying they have been "spoiled" through their first two years of existence https://t.co/FoBs6gBXY2— #MyPLSummer (@NBCSportsSoccer) March 11, 2019
It’s like Frank de Boer said in March of 2019 when he was first hired, Atlanta United fans are spoiled. But with all due respect, Frank, we will not be lowering our expectations any time soon.