I had been right the entire season.
Atlanta United have looked markedly better the last two games under FdB, and they were 100% the superior team in today’s 1-2 loss to FC Dallas as well as last week’s 2-0 win against the New England Revolution.
The underlying numbers back this up.
Ball don’t lie Part II
Part of my continued hammering of de Boer was rooted in the fact that Inter and Crystal Palace were genuinely horrific by any and ever measurable during his abbreviated tenures there.
The Five Stripes followed suit. They were among the worst teams in the MLS the first few games of the season, and all of the numbers backed that up.
The past two games tell a different story.
FdB’s first four games were a shitshow. No intensity. No attack. No offense. No scoring.
As this graphic illustrates, Atlanta’s attack through the end of March was “ineffectual” to say the least.
The one bright spot they had going for them was their non-shooting xG. A month into the season, they saw an uptick in the scoring opportunities their movements around the box should’ve been creating.
But they weren’t scoring. At all.
They did well in possession, but that possession saw the ball moving backwards too often and not into meaningful channels towards the attacking third.
The past two games? It’s been a different story.
Their xG and non-shot xG have outpaced New England and Dallas.
Against New England, they were actually out-possessed but created quality shots from through balls and individual skill (see: Ezequiel Barco). A total of 68% of their shots came from inside the 18 (ATL is blue in the below chart). This meant that all of that non-shot xG was actually being taken advantage of finally.
Today, ATL out-possessed Dallas 71-29%.
They took an outstanding 22 shots on goal with 8 on target (Dallas took 8 total with an unsustainably efficient 6 on target). Part of Atlanta’s “inefficiency” against Dallas was from taking more shots outside of the 18 (they’re red below, at 45%). However, part of the Dallas loss was fluky bad luck. If Barco doesn’t hit the post on his screamer, everyone’s mood and perception of the team is probably different.
Will de Boer stay the course or revert back to his losing ways?
De Boer has clearly shifted strategy since losing to the Crew. Atlanta is attacking more and creating more opportunities.
While they have a -3 goal differential for the season, thanks to their improved play the past two games, their xG for 2019 is now 9.2 compared to an 8.1 xGA. Their expected goal differential is +1.1 compared to a -3 reality. There will be regression to the mean if this keeps up and their record should improve.
The key for Atlanta is that de Boer doesn’t get discouraged by a bad result or two and go back to what’s familiar to him — which has been and is a losing strategy for years.
Atlanta is improving. Now the results need to catch up to the numbers.