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.