Boos rang down the Mercedes-Benz stadium after Atlanta United drew expansion club FC Cincinnati 1-1- on Sunday.
As far as any fans can remember, there has never been boos after an Atlanta United game.
The boos weren’t directed at the players. Atlanta fans love their team to a degree no other MLS city can really claim. The boos were fans expressing dissatisfaction with this new style of Five Stripes play and more specifically, at the new manager, Frank de Boer.
A Blown Lead, Uninspired Play
The game started as good as fans could hope. ATL went up in the fifth minute on a pinpoint Josef Martinez strike coming from a spot on feed from Julian Gressel.
Feels good to be home 😎
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) March 10, 2019
The 1-0 lead acted as make-up on the ugly face of an uninspiring game. On paper, United dominated the match. They played a possession-heavy game (66-34%) and out-shot Cincinnati 10 (4 on target) to 4 (1 on target). But Atlanta generated fewer quality opportunities as the game dragged on. They engaged in a very ticky-tacky possession game with aspiring opportunities coming from direct play. Creative link-ups were non-existent. Counter-attacks were toothless, lacking numbers and quality.
Worse, the players didn’t look like they were enjoying the new system.
It all came crashing down in the 86th minute when Roland Lamah broke free from a disorganized backline and buried his strike, tying the game 1-1 and silencing the announced crowd of just over 70,000.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 10, 2019
On a night when United unveiled its 2018 MLS Cup banner, the end result couldn’t be more disappointing. Atlanta were the heaviest favorites among all MLS squads this week (-240). The talent is there. The support is there. A system that works is not.
Shades of Mourinho and Sarri
Yes, it’s early. Losses away to Monterrey and DC United can be brushed off. Both are quality squads (and in Monterrey’s case, probably the best in North America). A tie at home against expansion FC Cincinnati, not so much. United are playing less than the sum of their parts right now, and that’s on de Boer.
As Paul Tenorio from The Athletic pointed out:
There should always be concern when a coach comes in with a formation/system in mind instead of looking at the strengths of the squad he inherits and working accordingly. De Boer deserves time to figure it out, but it just feels like he isn’t amplifying #ATLUTD‘s strengths.
— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) March 10, 2019
De Boer is implementing a system that doesn’t fit his players. He hasn’t adapted yet. The players don’t appear to be enjoying playing for de Boer. This all feels like Jose Mourinho at Manchester United or Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea. De Boer has taken a system that wasn’t broke (far from it) and made it worse, mostly by ignoring some things that made that personnel successful.
The critics of the de Boer hire that pointed to his stints at Inter Milan and Crystal Palace are being given plenty of fodder. It doesn’t help when de Boer, in post game comments, says that Atlanta fans have been “spoiled” and to not expect “similar results” this season.
A Few Bright Spots
Josef Martinez’s finish was legit. Julian Gressel was strong early. Ezequiel Barco looked great off ball with some interesting runs. Unfortunately, he was rarely delivered the ball on those runs. Eighteen year-old sub Andrew Carleton looked like Adam Lallana-lite, with boundless energy and interesting runs. Unfortunately, again, teammates haven’t developed either the chemistry or awareness to link up with them yet.
Other than that, this is a major work in progress. Nothing short of a (highly unlikely) mid-week rebound in the CONCACAF Champions League will go to silence a growing chorus of de Boer doubters.