Atlanta United and Frank de Boer, an unhappy marriage quickly dissolves in Year 2

For all its peculiarities, how a team does in the MLS is Back Tournament is not without consequences.

Frank de Boer was cut loose as Atlanta United's head coach on Friday. The move came three days after the Five Stripes exited the MLS is Back Tournament with their third straight 1-0 loss.

The Dutchman seemed resigned to his fate after Tuesday's defeat to the Columbus Crew.

“I will give always my best,” he said. “I will continue that until the end.”

Atlanta United will name an interim coach while searching for a permanent replacement for de Boer. Also departing are assistant coaches Orlando Trustfull and Bob de Klerk and video analyst Erwin Koenis, all Dutchmen who came with de Boer in 2019.

De Boer was always an odd fit, succeeding Argentine Tata Martino, who led Atlanta United to the 2018 MLS Cup championship. He had won four Dutch league titles at Ajax but quickly lost jobs at Inter Milan (three months in a three-year contract) and Crystal Palace (exiting after four games -- and no goals -- just 10 weeks into a three-year contract).

Atlanta United started poorly in 2019, sitting in the Eastern Conference in late April. It started to win after that, moving in the Eastern Conference lead in mid-August and capturing a pair of trophies, the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup, that seemed to gloss over the uneasy mood within the team.

Much of the attention focused on de Boer's relationship with struggling star Pity Martinez, who was critical of the Dutchman in the Argentine press. But other players, like defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, said the transition from Martino to de Boer had been hard.

“When there was no reason to change," Gonzalez Pirez said at the All-Star Game, "things changed."

Atlanta United's fortunes took a turn for the worse when Venezuelan star Josef Martinez suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the 2020 season-opening win at Nashville SC.

Martinez scored 77 goals in 83 league appearances in his first three seasons. He scored a new record 31 goals and was named league MVP in 2018 when Atlanta United won the MLS Cup, but he was just as important to Atlanta United in 2019 when he scored 27 of its 58 goals.

Atlanta United won its second game of the 2020 MLS season, a 2-1 win over FC Cincinnati, but hasn't scored since then, losing to Club Mexico, 3-0, in the Concacaf Champions League and all three games at the MLS is Back Tournament.

The second game was a 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati. Afterwards, de Boer complained about the 9 a.m. kickoff, saying "it is not worth it to play in these kinds of conditions."

But it was clear that there were bigger issues than 6 a.m. breakfasts -- "never happened in my life" -- and Orlando's morning heat.

“Something needs to be changed," said veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan after Tuesday's loss to Columbus. "Conversations need to take place and a different product on the field.”

Changes are needed, not just on the Atlanta United bench but on the field.

In the offseason, the Five Stripes traded midfielder Darlington Nagbe to Columbus and winger Julian Gressel to D.C. United and transferred forward Hector Villalba to Paraguay's Libertad and Gonzalez Pirez to Tijuana. Their replacements have failed to make any significant impact.

Atlanta United has already made one move: Mexican international Jurgen Damm was signed from Tigres and will be available when MLS play resumes. ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman reported that Atlanta United and one other MLS team have their eye on Mexican-American midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez.

12 comments about "Atlanta United and Frank de Boer, an unhappy marriage quickly dissolves in Year 2".
  1. Bob Ashpole, July 25, 2020 at 12:26 a.m.

    Does anybody else think that the coach was not Atlanta's problem? It is always easier to fire the coach than fix the problem.

  2. Gary Levitt replied, July 25, 2020 at 7:13 a.m.

    There is no doubt that the Club's dynamic changed with losing Nagbe, Parkhurst, Gressel, Meram, Tito and now Josef.  With that said, the ethos and brand of the Club was diminished with de Boer's insistence and inflexibility with player selection and tactics/shape.  He was the wrong fit especially considering he replaced Tata.  Tough decision but the right one.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, July 25, 2020 at 11:34 a.m.

    No coach attempting to change how a team plays will succeed if his progress is undone by trading away his players. Atlanta replaced key players after Tata left and again this year. No coach can teach a team positional play over night, if they don't have that culture to begin with.

  4. frank schoon, July 25, 2020 at 9:28 a.m.

    I am so dissapointment in this happening with Frank de Boer and I'm not happy with Atlanta for doing this.  As Gary stated Atlanta lost 6 players. Leave out Martinez,for a second and consider the other 5. They were all 'quality' players , relative to what is in the MLS, who played a significant part in Atlanta's success with De Boer last season.  

    Building a soccer team is not like putting some Legos pieces together and continue on. Before I lay any blame on Frank , I would lay blame for much of this on Carlos Bocanegra, the technical director. You break up a team ,its heart, so to speak, then don't assume you can pick up and go on the next season? 

    Next, major hit was the loss of Joseph Martinez who was the team ,the LEADER, the scorer, the Zlatan of Atlanta United.  You realize, he is a scoring machine the team depended on and WITHOUT him TATA would not have had the success, either...Understand ,that the mere presence of Martinez usually tied up at least 2 defenders of the opponents thus opening space and more room for his teammates. His teammates couldn't create , they had to be spoonfed by Martinez to be successful.  Without Martinez, spearheading the offense, you have a ship without a rudder.

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, July 25, 2020 at 1:34 p.m.

    I am not current with MLS, but the usual problem is that the roster financial limitations, while good for the business model, create instability in the rosters.

    Success causes inflation of player values. So with successful teams especially, they cannot carry over the same roster year to year. They trade players to free up space under the financial limits, and then look for underpriced replacements. Acquisitions are a mixed bag. Some players contribute and others disappoint. That still doesn't justify making the coach a scapegoat for the roster problems.

    Presumeably Tata knew what was happening with the Atlanta roster when he left, and possibly Frank did not when he accepted the job. It would be a rare foreign coach who understood the MLS roster rules before coming to the MLS.

    I am not saying anything about Bocanegra's performance one way or the other. Just pointing out the realities of the MLS roster rules.

  6. frank schoon replied, July 25, 2020 at 1:55 p.m.

    Bob, Bocanegra should have seen this coming, that's what he gets paid for...This situation is unreal. You always have players leave, but this is rediculous. Bocanegra should have warned about the implications of this whole thing to the management for I don't see how you can fire DeBoer for what he has done and how he was placed in this terrible situation...

    After losing so many players plus the injury to Martinez( who else besides Zlatan could score consistently) how is De boer suppose get this team to gel together when the Corona stopped everything in its tracks.

    You mind as well hire a coach an English coach (I know I'm going to hear from Ric Fonseca on this, LOL) for just let them play Boom ,Bam, Smack ball to finish out the season, for obviously you're not going to get nice soccer like the way  you ,I and Ships want to see....

  7. Kevin Sims replied, July 25, 2020 at 2:51 p.m.

    Without being inside the daily life of the team, none of us can assess the right answer.

  8. frank schoon, July 25, 2020 at 10:08 a.m.

    I don't know the 'goings on' behind the scene in the front of Atlanta United, but I do know that they brought in Frank de Boer in order to change the culture of the club; but that is a whole other discussion that I'm still trying to find out about in the Dutch sport press. 

    Realize, when you take the HUGE player loss , including Joseph Martinez and worse the Corona Virus which dealt a major BLOW to the Atlanta club in establishing any player COHESION, what we call in dutch "automatism" between the players, or what was left of it. 

    It pains me to see such a coach with his backround, his experience, his knowledge, an asset to American soccer player development to be fired.  Considering the circumstances, I think Atlanta should consider this season as a loss, take stock and allow Frank to build up for the next season. I myself can't even get into the game, right now; my whole soccer biological 'clock' is thrown off due to the virus happening. I could care less about the goings on in the MLS this season. I lost Zlatan and I lost Atlanta United, this season, and certainly not going to watch Red Bulls, or some of the other clubs that remind me more of the WWF of soccer....

    Another think that upsets me is the stupid statements about De Boer having been fired by two previous clubs when bringing up his coaching, which ,to me, tells how little they know about the game. He made a bad decision, putting himself in a bad club situation choosing  Inter, the Italian  and Crystal Palace ,who? The reason being was that after 4 successful years with Ajax he was dying to go back into coaching and chose BAD clubs that were in dire straits, instead of waiting. He chose Atlanta, which was good choice.

    If American Soccer is going to improve quality wise they have to begin to treat their best foreign coaches like De Boer with more respect and look at things with a long run view instead of short . We have to consider American soccer still at the developmental stage and therefore we need to bring in good expertise and work with it and not just discard it the moment we hit a rough patch.....

  9. Michael MacFaden, July 25, 2020 at 10:46 a.m.

    If Adrian Heath or Oscar Pareja's time in MLS is any example, we should expect to see Coach de Boar again.

  10. R2 Dad, July 25, 2020 at 2:06 p.m.

    Seems Atlanta ownership had an itch that needed scratching. Short-term cash issues related to the virus season, but even then they would have had to pay off his contract--or was it up for renewal? Dissappointing for the fans, who will now have to be involved in a long rebuilding process with a new coach, players will no longer gravitate to Atlanta especially with the Miami project gearing up. MLS problems that could be mititgated if they had young exciting players bubbling up from their academy, as they excite the fans even if the final on-field product does not. At least we have the renewal of Champions League next month.

  11. frank schoon replied, July 25, 2020 at 2:10 p.m.

    R2, it was a 3year contract..

  12. Wooden Ships replied, July 28, 2020 at 2:15 p.m.

    It's laughable that he was terminated at this time. 

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