Feb. 28, 2019 Kennesaw: Atlanta United midfielder Pity Martinez works against C.S. Herediano in their Concacaf Champions League soccer match on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Kennesaw. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Busting a few Atlanta United myths

There is rightfully much consternation about Atlanta United’s poor start to the season.

Bounced out of the Champions League after an unfavorable draw and poor final 10 minutes in the first leg against Monterrey, the team isn’t producing great results in MLS either, with just five points from six games. They are in last place in the East and preparing to host Colorado (0-6-2), which is in last in the West, Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But there also are a lot of hot takes out there that, to me, are more hyperbole than fact.

So, I thought I’d share some of favorites and share my thoughts on each:

Atlanta United should fire Frank de Boer

Believe it or not, this was shared on the wasteland that is social media before the final whistle of the first game at Herediano.

I laughed at it then, and I laugh at it now.

After Atlanta United won the MLS Cup last season, it is now looking for a balance of consistent success over a long time. Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra believe that de Boer is the guy to take the talent coming through the Academy and Atlanta United 2 and manage it to success in MLS. Firing him now would undo all that.

Do I think that de Boer has done a great job this season? No. Not consistently, anyway. He has made three particular decisions that I can neither explain nor rationalize: the 3-4-3 to start the season when there was no time to train the tweaks once the games started, starting so many starters at D.C. United in between the second leg against Herediano and the first leg at Monterrey, and the lack of subs when trailing by a manageable 1-0 score in the game at Monterrey. 

Do I think that de Boer is improving at his job? Yes. Very much so. A mark of a good manager is someone who can recognize when something isn’t working and try to fix it. De Boer owned that his preferred 3-4-3 formation wasn’t working and changed it. The team is playing better as a result of that change that started in the game against Philadelphia.

The 4-4-1-1 formation is somewhat similar to the 4-3-3 played by de Boer’s predecessor Gerardo Martino. I think you may see a tweak to the 4-4-1-1 on Saturday, but that’s for another day.

The bottom line is it will take time to see the results. As Joe Patrick (who deserves a full-time paying job covering soccer) recently pointed out: Martino won just three of his first 10 games in charge of the Five Stripes.

Atlanta United still has lots of time.

Players are being forced into unfamiliar roles

I’ve seen this one a few times, including in the MLS Power Poll on the league website Wednesday. This was what was written:

“The contrast between Atlanta United’s first two seasons, when they struggled at times but usually found a late breakthrough, and this season so far is that the current team doesn't look like they have a clear plan much of the time. On top of that, too many players seem to be playing new roles for no discernible reason.”

The first sentence is accurate, but only when discussing games at the beginning of the season. I covered that above. The second part simply is not true, at least not in the past three games.

The only player who could be considered to have played in an unfamiliar role against New England and against Dallas was Michael Parkhurst, who started at right back. It’s not a position he has played often, but is one he has experience playing because he played it in the freakin’ UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE. Everyone else were in roles and positions they have played this season or in the past two seasons.

Now, you may not like the results this season. That’s accurate and understandable. Five points is five points. But the players aren’t in unfamiliar roles.

A corpse would be better than Brek Shea at left back

Hyperbole much? Shea started the season with a great game in the second leg against Herediano, struggled in the next few games, but has bounced back in the past three games with mostly solid performances. 

Remember that the first job of a fullback is defense. None of the goals allowed in the past three games were Shea’s fault. 

On defense, he’s played as well as can be expected. He’s not a natural fullback.

Turning to his secondary responsibility, offense, Shea has struggled, but it seems as if things are starting to improve. In the games after the second leg against Herediano, it almost seemed that Shea was trying to hit defenders with his crosses. 

His crossing has improved since then, but still needs to get better. He has improved as an attacker down the wing though, particularly at making runs through the final line.

I’m not saying that Shea should be considered a locked-in starter. He has no goals and no assists. 

I’m saying that he’s not playing nearly as poorly as some are saying.

Pity Martinez is a bust and needs to be sold ASAP

Please.

This is just silly.

Martinez hasn’t looked great. He has no goals and no assists in 223 minutes played.

But his quality is evident.

He has been hampered by missing a few weeks of preseason training. That, combined with his long season last year in Argentina, has resulted in some fitness issues that have been hard to shake.

Add that to trying to live and adjust to a new country, new league, new club, new manager, new teammates, new style, new everything.

Oh, and he got married.

Oh, and he came into the league already being discussed as an MVP candidate.

I can’t imagine the stress he must be feeling.

The results will come.

I do think that his decision-making needs to improve, particularly as it relates to taking shots from 25 yards and longer. Damian Lillard he isn’t.

And de Boer needs to figure out Martinez’s best position.

I don’t think he is fast enough to be a winger in MLS, which is where he started.

I think he needs to play underneath Josef Martinez and beside Ezequiel Barco so that the trio’s natural creative juices and instincts can be best utilized.

There have been speculative reports that Pity Martinez isn’t happy in his new home.

While I will agree with anyone who says that his body language isn’t positive during games, I’ve seen and been told that he is fully engaged with his teammates and coaching staff off the field.

Martinez wants to play in Europe. He needs to succeed at Atlanta United for that dream to be realized.

Nagbe could be traded

This odd little nugget was dropped by Matt Doyle of MLS Soccer.com last week as part of a review of the Week 7 action.

Darlington Nagbe was asked about it Tuesday. He looked perplexed and suggested that the club be asked.

I’ve been told by a person familiar with the club and player that Nagbe will remain with the team this season.

Some of this speculation is tied to the mysterious issues between Nagbe and the club during the preseason. They are issues that still haven’t been revealed, but haven’t lingered.

Nagbe has been repeatedly praised by de Boer for his play.

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About the Author

Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson covers the Atlanta United and Major League Soccer.
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