Since arriving in the United States back in December, Dutch head coach Frank de Boer was tasked with the challenge of replicating the team’s success of last season.
This obviously is no easy task in modern day MLS, where almost every team is a challenger for the cup. The loss of several of the team’s key players this offseason has significantly dented the team’s production throughout the first two weeks of the season. Perhaps none more-so than the loss of Miguel Almirón, who exited for England, breaking Newcastle United’s record transfer fee.
Sure, it’s early days. But I have been less than impressed with the results produced on the pitch so far, and all fingers seem to point in De Boer’s direction.
But to tell the tale efficiently, we must start with week 1 of the 2019 MLS campaign, which saw Atlanta fall to a 2-0 defeat against D.C. United.
De Boer’s 3-4-3 system, changed from the 3-5-2 format operated under Gerardo Martino last season, soaked up pressure for the majority of the game. That’s fine, should they be able to counter-attack efficiently when they regain possession of the ball, which, they did not at all.
What’s even more worrying is United’s effort, or lack of.
At corners they were locked in position, unwilling to properly defend the threat at hand. In addition, they lacked any substantial pressure when searching to regain the ball, perhaps most evidenced by the conceding of their second goal, when Luciano Acosta snuck one past Brad Guzan to consolidate their lead.
Rewatching film from the #UniteAndConquer game in week 1 of the MLS. Take a look at this woeful defending, as not one of the six players surrounding Acosta even attempts to make a challenge on the Argentinian. pic.twitter.com/BhhUO5nHtR
— Greg Forbes (@red_scox) March 11, 2019
As visualised above, Acosta was awarded far too much space just outside of the box, which is absolutely criminal. Not one player of the six within five metres of Acosta even approached the Argentinian, which ultimately made it all too easy for the midfielder to score.
In week 2, Atlanta United became history makers for all the wrong reasons, as FC Cincinnati garnered their first ever points in the league.
That said, I saw a vast improvement in the team’s performance from that of week 1’s catastrophic defeat. Firstly, because they were on the front-foot from the get-go, as Josef Martínez opened the scoring and his account for the season. From there, they largely dominated in possession and actually approached the game well defensively, as they battled for every ball all over the pitch. That was indicative in the final statistics, with United possessing 64% of the ball and completing 320 more passes than their opponents.
Their dominance however is ultimately more concerning than it is pleasing, given that they failed to produce any real significant chances, whilst only mustering 4 shots on target through 90 minutes.
When it came time for United to hold on to the lead, they succumbed to the only shot on target from Cincinnati in the 86th minute as Roland Lamah secured the franchise’s first point of the season.
As much as I acknowledge how early in the season we are, De Boer’s approach with this talented team has been questionable.
He has transformed a once free-flowing intense attacking unit, to a slow, patient and spiritless outfit, spearheaded by Brek Shea.
I worry that the Almirón hole has yet to be filled, nor does it look likely it will be should this style of football continue. Perhaps more worrying than anything else, some fans have already had enough of the Dutchman, with ‘#DeBoerOut’ trending worldwide on social media.
On the other hand, let’s not forget the success De Boer has produced both in his playing and managerial career. It wasn’t all that long ago that he captivated the hearts of the people of Amsterdam, delivering four consecutive Eredivisie titles in a six-year tenure with Ajax.
One thing I know for certain is that De Boer deserves time to truly shape and mould his unit, which may come as a sacrifice to the team’s success in the coming weeks. However, I have no doubt he possesses the capability to rejuvenate this squad, who admittedly appear rather downtrodden at this moment in time.