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SBI View: Frank De Boer’s mismanagement all but ends Atlanta United’s CCL hopes

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Atlanta United’s first Concacaf Champions League campaign is all but over, and Frank De Boer is largely to blame.

Liga MX power Monterrey dealt Atlanta United a defeat that was equal parts disastrous and dispiriting on Wednesday night, prevailing, 3-0, in the first leg of their quarterfinals series. The reigning MLS Cup champions never really looked capable of winning the match down in Mexico, especially not after conceding via a first-half penalty kick, but the club put forth a defensive performance that looked to make for a manageable situation ahead of the return leg down in Atlanta.

Then, came the encounter’s final act.

Atlanta United crumbled just when it was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, surrendering two (almost three) golazos in the final 10 minutes. Almost in an instant, the MLS club went from being in a decent position to an insurmountable one and it was De Boer’s mismanagement that was directly responsible.

Instead of accepting that a 1-0 loss would have been a good result to take back to Atlanta, De Boer continued to have his team push for an away goal late in the second half. While trying to get one generally makes sense given that road goals are the series tiebreaker, it was clear that Atlanta United did not have enough quality on the day to find the back of the net. Producing (and finishing with) just one shot on target, a team record for fewest, was crystal clear evidence of that.

Rather than search for a goal, De Boer should have instructed his players to set up shop in a deeper block to try and close out the game. If they could find an away goal in an intelligent manner via a counterattack or set piece, great. If not, the club could take solace in knowing that it was returning to the fortress that is Mercedes-Benz Stadium down just a goal.

“If we could have gotten out of here 1-0, it would have been a good result for us,” said Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst.

The new head coach did not take that approach, though, and what transpired on the field allowed a visibly-anxious Monterrey side that wanted more than a one-goal victory to get its way. Los Rayados saw the blood in the water with Atlanta United looking so disorganized at the back, and took full advantage of all the space they had to operate in.

Dorlan Pabon’s 80th-minute goal, while product of a heck of a strike, came about because Atlanta United’s defense was out of sorts. Spacing was all wrong between the back five and midfield and players were visibly not clear on who they had to mark. What’s more, Ezequiel Barco and Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez (as well as Josef Martinez) all stayed higher up the field waiting for the ball instead of getting back to help out defensively. Three players just standing and watching as the rest of the team tried to put out fires against a dynamic, quick, and lethal Monterrey side.

That still did not make De Boer to come to his senses. He not only continued to try and get numbers into the attack in the immediate aftermath, but also refused to make his first substitution, be it for tactical or physical reasons. Mind you, almost all of Atlanta United’s lineup had played just three days prior in an MLS road game vs. D.C. United.

Monterrey, predictably, shoved another goal down Atlanta United’s throat. Only afterwards did De Boer decide put on the likes of defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz and energetic winger Hector ‘Tito’ Villalba, but that transpired in the 90th minute. By then, it was too late and practically pointless.

“The last 15 minutes wasn’t good enough,” said Parkhurst.

They also made next week’s task, one that comes after an MLS home opener against FC Cincinnati on Sunday, impossible. Yes, Atlanta United may have the talent, but it has not shown a clear and cohesive identity from the run of play under De Boer to make one think that a remarkable turnaround vs. a Monterrey side that has not lost in all of 2019 is possible.

What’s more, Los Rayados will be able to comfortably sit back and counter in Atlanta, if they so choose, to try and force the MLS outfit to leave itself as exposed as it was at the end of the first leg. One more goal from Monterrey means Atlanta United needs to score five to advance, and that is about as bleak a proposition as you could imagine at any stage of the competition.

“It’s obviously going to be very difficult to play a dangerous team like Monterrey,” De Boer told the Atlanta Journal Constitution after Wednesday’s lopsided loss. “It’s going to be very tough but we are going to give it our everything and see what happens.”

Make no mistake about it, this series is over. Some people might say that Atlanta United can come back, that Atlanta United can do the unthinkable with its high-powered attack, that Atlanta United can still reach the semifinals. Do not buy the smoke they are selling. This one is done and dusted.

Crazy things do happen in soccer, but they typically require competent management. Right now, that is nonexistent for Atlanta United.

Comments

  1. +1 franco panizo for talking with us in the comments section. something sbi has lacked generally for a long time.
    ~
    my two cents: the general strategy needs to be that when mls loses in ccl, we need to steal their players and coaches so next year they are playing for the mls clubs. for example, last year almeyda won ccl with chivas guadalajara and now he coaches for the ‘quakes in san jose in mls. mls has boatloads of cash these days so no excuses why we can’t lure more and more ccl winners north of the border year after year.

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    • to say it a different way, i hope that peter vermes, chris armas, frank de boer and wilmer cabrera would think of these ccl games as “scouting trips” for the next transfer windows.

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  2. The bottom line is that Atlanta is too good to be losing 3-0, even in a hostile environment. So far the team is a composite 1 win and two losses, their only win being vs. Herediano at home, hardly a major power. I just can’t imagine that they would be doing so poorly if Tata were still there.

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    • Not a chance, you’re right. De Boer may not survive the year — he is a vastly inferior coach in my estimation, But boy, it’s Almiron they will miss most. That was an incredible player (and the true MVP of the team and the league, not to diminish Martinez’s goal-scoring feat).

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  3. That’s why I always praised the one and only Gerardo “Tata” Martino!!!

    To take players that no other Manager in MLS can rely on and position them in a manner that makes them look like superstars. That why there is so much expectation on ATL, because Tata made them look invincible (with pretty much the same players on the team now). Then right after he leaves they all seem to fall from grace. I know Almiron on the team also made a world of difference but he doesn’t contribute that much on defense…..and with the same players available from last season Atlanta’s sucks defensively.

    Coaching involves selecting the right players for the right positions in the right formation. Right now, Frank De Boer is lost

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  4. Dude, did you not see Ajax? This is not done and dusted. The problem is Nagbe, hes supposed to be the Center Mid, breaking up plays, resetting the game and dictating place, but all he does is play backwards, loose balls and not very accurate with passing. Thats why the midflield was broken, you cant have pity and Barco trying to focus on defense and do the job of Nagbe.

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    • Nagbe was responsble for both goals. On the 2nd goal he just gave up on closely tracking Pabon as he was about to shoot. You will see the dude just stop and Pabon had a free angle to shoot to the near post. 3rd goal he was ball watching while covering the middle defensive area and left 5 yards behind him with no attention to the attacker dropping behind, and Parkhurst saw this and moved away from his space to cover the central attacker, and ball went to the unmarked attacker in the space Parkhurst just left.

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  5. Early days yet, but I really did not like the choice of De Boer as manager. Seems like somebody said, “Hey, we need to get a ‘big name’ with some sort of Barcelona connection”. His record as a manager is mostly unimpressive, and it’s not like he has some great knowledge of MLS or North American soccer. I guess he might prove me wrong.

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  6. So the players are not accountable for their mistakes? Blame the coach but the players are actually on the field. These are professional players not amateurs yet they need on field instructions to tell them what to do. e.g, Nagbe too slow in closing down space for the 2nd goal and Parkhurst leaving his space to the attacker with open chance on the 3rd goal. Look at the replays slowly if you still don’t see who is to blame.

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    • Agree but to be fair I don’t think he was suggesting players couldn’t have done better, I believe the point he is making is moreso questioning tactics, they could have “parked the bus” and tried to head home down 1-0. May not have worked that way anyhow, and without allowing so much space as you mention they still could have escaped 1-0, but I think Franco is arguing the probability of facing such a huge task would have been less if they did park the bus

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      • Atlanta outnumbered Monterrey in the defensive area on both goals. 7v5 (2nd goal) and 5v3 (3rd goal). Do you need 3 more players to call it park the bus? Players’ focus and mental strength played a part, and coaches have no blame if individuals can’t focus or ball watch what is going on.

      • I completely disagree. Just having numbers back means nothing if they are disorganized and all over the place instead of keeping shape and clogging lanes. You don’t see anything close to resembling a block at the back on either goal. You just see scattered players frantically trying to figure out what’s happening and trying to put out fires.

    • I think you are correct in your individual assessment of the errors at the end of the game, but you are only looking at the “what” and not the “why”.

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      Rewatch the goals in the story and you’ll notice how disorganized Atlanta United’s defense is at the start of the two sequences that led to the late goals. The team was not in a cohesive shape and left large swaths of the field open, which was suicide.

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      Even if you insist on looking at things individually, then you’ll notice that so many players on both sides of the ball underperformed for Atlanta United. That speaks more to a team failure, and that’s on De Boer for not following one of the basic principles of coaching: putting players in a position to succeed.

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      Is Monterrey a better and more talented side than Atlanta United? Yes, absolutely, 100 percent. But not three goals better.

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      • Park the bus? it was 5v7 (Atl) and 3v5 (Atl) on the 2nd and 3rd goals, respectively. Atlanta outnumbered Monterrey by 2 players on both goals. If you are out-numbering the opposition in those areas when goals occurred, it is not a coaching decision.

      • Franco. A line of asterisks is the usual method we peasants use of dealing with the paragraph spacing problem
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        Not perfect, but better!

      • Thanks for the tip! I’ll be much more involved in the comments section going forward, so this will help tremendously!

  7. Jonathan Gonzales was flawless. Not a single bad touch and always in the right place. The way he commands that defensive mid position is something else. Despite of all the talent around he looks right at home on that team.

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      • I wouldn’t sweat it, at least not until this kid shows a little more than he has so far. He’s gone from Liga MX Best XI to part timer on a good team. Only 3 league starts this season, although he is starting in the CCL games. He’s young and could still develop into something good, but right now he’s a Liga MX bench player.

    • He’s not playing a whole lot, only 3 league starts this season (although he is starting in the CCL). The kid has gone from Liga MX Best XI a little over a year ago to part time player on a good team.

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      • Agree, and have actually developed into not being concerned with players decisions, they get to choose who they wish to represent, but I still felt the need to yell Rongen just cuz lol

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