Ugly. Not pleasant on the eyes. Slow. Sloppy.
All of those words fit the Columbus Crew‘s Mapfre Stadium on Saturday night—-aaaand Atlanta United under manager Frank de Boer.
In about the worst weather conditions you’ll ever see for a professional sports event, which included an almost hour-long delay after lighting struck nearby, Atlanta United suffered a 2-0 defeat to the Columbus Crew.
There’s an old saying about excuses…
While players on each side expressed disbelief that the match was allowed to continue given the state of the field, both teams faced the exact same conditions. One team prevailed.
Columbus scored their first goal in the second minute due to an Atlanta defensive breakdown before weather became a real factor. Given the time FdB finally had to work with his squad during the international break and further implement his system, that opening two minutes was as bad of a result the Five Stripes could’ve imaged. The breakdown speaks loudly towards the mental state of this team under their new manager.
You are what your record says you are
As we wrote after the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appointment at Manchester United, you are what your record says you are.
Even so, an ATL optimist would look at this match and note:
- Columbus was an unsustainable 2 for 2 converting shots on goal in the first 39 minutes
- Atlanta held a slight possession advantage (54% – 46%)
- Atlanta significantly outshot their opponent 16 (5 on target) to 8 (3 on target)
A realist would look at the match (and season) though and note:
- They lost
- They’re winless in the MLS
- They’ve literally scored 2 goals in four MLS matches this season
- This is starting to look an awful lot like FdB’s stints at Crystal Palace and Inter
- Actually scratch that, this looks exactly like FdB’s stints at Crystal Palace and Inter
- They’ve out-possessed every MLS team they’ve played this season, often by large margins
- That possession isn’t created substantive scoring opportunities, because…
- …their 2.5 xGF ranks LAST in the MLS after ranking FIRST last year
- They’re LAST in the MLS Eastern table after winning the 2018 MLS Cup
This likely isn’t getting better.
Atlanta’s roster is almost double in value to the next closest MLS team (LAFC). The talent is there to do better.
This is on the manager. This is on de Boer.
Here’s an updated look at FdB’s career managerial record:
|Ajax||6 December 2010||11 May 2016||262||158||57||47||60.3|
|Inter||9 August 2016||1 November 2016||14||5||2||7||35.7|
|Crystal Palace||26 June 2017||11 September 2017||5||1||0||4||20.0|
|Atlanta United||23 December 2018||Present (includes CONCACAF CL)||8||2||2||4||25.0|
Ajax hasn’t finished lower than 4th in the Eredivisie during the 21st century. Not to diminish de Boer’s record or achievement while there, but even Frank de Boer this guy could get Ajax consistently near the top of the Eredivisie table. Ajax always brings in young talent, and they develop that talent as good as anyone in the world.
Look past Ajax, and FdB at ATL is perfectly consistent with his previous jobs: few goals and few victories.
De Boer’s style of possession and play is a relic of soccer from 10 years ago. With apologies to Atlético Madrid, the game has changed and evolved into mostly a counter-attacking, shape-shifting style. As Dirty South Soccer accurately pointed out, this was key to the Five Stripes success.
Barring a metamorphosis by de Boer, it’s not going to get better for Atlanta United. There’s no shame in moving on from a mistake as soon as you realize you’ve made one. This isn’t working. It’s not going to work. Better to rip the band-aid off now than suffer through a season languishing at the bottom of the table. The talent is there. The tactics are not. Time for ATL to move on from Frank de Boer.