Atlanta United’s style shouldn’t change much under de Boer

Atlanta United's playing style under new manager Frank de Boer should be similar to that of Gerardo Martino in leading the team to the MLS Cup.

The team will press. The team will be aggressive. The team will be able to play with or without the ball.

The continuance is by design.

“Very much about taking the great squad we have as MLS Cup champions and let’s build on that,” Atlanta United President Darren Eales said.

From the time Eales was hired as president in 2014, he has said he wants to play an attacking, attractive style of soccer.

Hiring Carlos Bocanegra as technical director and Martino as the first manager were steps toward that goal, which resulted in consecutive 70-goal seasons in Years 1 and 2 for the club.

Martino declined to return to the club.

Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino on the sidelines during the MLS Cup Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Martino left The Five Stripes with a championship and a 31-17-15 record over two seasons.

Credit: Hyosub Shin

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Credit: Hyosub Shin

Enter de Boer, who was officially announced as manager on Sunday. His soccer education includes matriculations at two of the world's finest clubs: Ajax, where he was in the academy and then led the senior team to numerous league titles as well as a Champions League title, and Barcelona.

At both places, he was immersed in the philosophy of Total Football, where players are interchangeable in attack and defense. It didn’t originate with the Dutch but was made famous by its national team in the early 1970s. It requires tactical acumen because players need to recognize when they need to change positions to maintain the formation, technical skill to be able to play each position and intelligence to make it all work.

De Boer has carried that into his career as a manager at Ajax with the academy, as an assistant with the Netherlands national team, and as the manager of Ajax. He tried to continue it as manager as Inter Milan and Crystal Palace, but circumstances and a lack of patience resulted in his termination less than four months into each place.

However, elements of the Total Football style should fit in well with Atlanta United, whose roster is composed mostly of players who are arguably as adept to play offense as defense, and who can slot into numerous positions.

No team plays Total Football in its entirety, but many do use elements of it. Atlanta United is one.

Julian Gressel can play across the midfield and at fullback. Darlington Nagbe can play through the midfield. Eric Remedi can be a box-to-box midfielder or defensive midfielder. Miguel Almiron can play anywhere forward of defensive midfielder. Hector Villalba can play as a midfielder or striker. Franco Escobar says he’s a centerback but was deployed with great effect as a wingback in the playoffs. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is a centerback who frequently wanders up field with the ball. Jon Gallagher was drafted as a striker but spent time playing fullback with Atlanta United 2.

Those are just a few examples of the flexibility within Atlanta United, a flexibility that has allowed the club to overcome numerous injuries.

The parts are there for de Boer.

“We have a style of pay, a philosophy, a vision for the club,” Bocanegra said. “We think he will come in and continue to build on the club.”