Atlanta United, Frank de Boer part ways

Team is mired in a four-game slump and hasn't scored in almost 400 minutes

Atlanta United and manager Frank de Boer have mutually agreed to part ways.

De Boer, the team’s second manager, was hired just before the 2019 season and led the team to two trophies: the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup.

Once known for its attacking style, the team just went 0-for-3 in the MLS tournament in which it was the only of the 24 teams that competed not to score and rarely created chances.

The team is mired in a four-game losing slump across all competitions and hasn’t scored in 395 minutes.

The decision to replace de Boer was announced Friday afternoon. An interim coach will be named. Also leaving are assistants Orlando Trustfull and Bob de Klerk.

De Boer’s league record with Atlanta United was 20-15-4.

“On behalf of Atlanta United, I would like to thank Frank for his leadership and commitment to the club,” Atlanta United President Darren Eales said in a statement provided by the team. “Under Frank’s guidance, the club had a strong 2019 season in both MLS and international competition. After discussing it with Frank, the decision was reached mutually to part ways. In winning two trophies in his first season in charge, he will always be a part of the club’s history, and with great appreciation and respect we wish him all the best in the future.”

De Boer and Atlanta United’s players seemed to clash from the start with regard to his tactics and communication. De Boer thought the defense could be tighter, which meant that the offense couldn’t be as free-flowing. He was seen as arrogant by the players and as someone who may have loved the spotlight a bit too much. The players questioned the tactics and preparation.

The team struggled to find a groove to start the 2019 season with just one win its first five games until a team meeting was held. De Boer switched formations from a 3-4-3 to a 4-1-4-1 and then to a 3-4-2-1 that was used by previous manager Gerardo Martino. The only reason the team moved to three in the back, against Houston on July 17, was because it only had three healthy centerbacks.

De Boer didn’t win the affections of supporters when he described them as having been spoiled by past success. He clarified his comments a few days later by saying that “spoiled” means something different in his native Holland than in America.

Former player Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said months later during the MLS All-Star game that the team chafed at de Boer’s style.

“Of course it’s hard,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “Two years of playing the same way, which in return gave you results. Coming out as champions, winning the league in a deserving manner. When there was no reason to change, things changed.”

Pity Martinez, speaking to an Argentine radio station, also questioned the team’s defensive style.

Gonzalez Pirez tried to soften his comments by adding that he had no problems with de Boer.

“Yesterday I read the interviews,” he said. “It looks like I’m unhappy. It’s not like that. Things are changing. This is true. We are different, but we are trying to do our best. I don’t have a problem with anybody.”

Gonzalez Pirez was sold after the season, though it was never clear how much say that de Boer had in terms of the team’s transfers in and out.

Still, the team won two more trophies and advanced to the finals of the Eastern Conference playoffs, though doing so was described as a year-long challenge.

After an offseason of upheaval that included trading Darlington Nagbe, Julian Gressel and Gonzalez Pirez, the team started the season 2-0 with wins against expansion-side Nashville, in which standout striker Josef Martinez was lost for the season, and Cincinnati before COVID-19 stalled the season. The quality of the opponents may have covered up issues that continued from last year. De Boer used the training time during the hiatus to again work on the 3-4-3 to use during the Orlando tournament.

The results were disastrous.

The team’s remaining two Designated Players, Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco, failed to be impactful in the tournament within the formation and de Boer’s lineup choices and substitutions also were quizzical.

De Boer accepted blame for the team’s horrific showing in Orlando and expressed confidence that he solve the team’s issues.

“I will give always my best,” he said. “I will continue that until the end. I can change the vibe we have now to a winning vibe. We showed this last season.”

Speaking after the 1-0 loss to Columbus that sealed Atlanta United’s fate in the tournament, goalkeeper Brad Guzan seemed to hint that some of the issues from early 2019 were again plaguing the team this season.

“In these three games and can even go back to the Club America game, that’s not who we are as a club,” Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “That’s not what we are about as a team. There’s got to be change. There’s got to be some sort of change on the field. There’s got to be communication, conversations, but then there has to be a response to that. It can’t just be talk talk talk, and then we get on the field and do the same thing we’ve been doing. This didn’t just happen in one game. This has happened for four games.”

De Boer had legendary shoes to fill, and his resume didn’t provide confidence.

De Boer was preceded by Gerardo Martino, who not only led the team to the MLS Cup in 2018, but oversaw an aggressive playing style that the players enjoyed. It made stars of Martinez, Miguel Almiron and Gressel.

Martino resigned to become manager of Mexico, and de Boer stepped in.

De Boer had previously managed Inter Milan and Crystal Palace, lasting but a handful of games at each before being dismissed. To be fair, de Boer was tasked at each club with installing a new culture but neither franchise seemed ready. Neither have experienced success after he left.

De Boer was tasked by Eales and Vice President Carlos Bocanegra with continuing what Martino started, partially through developing the team’s younger players. De Boer did have past success doing that as the Academy Director at Ajax in Holland.

The results at Atlanta United had yet to happen. Fullback George Bello missed most of the 2019 season because of adductor surgery. Barco played better in 2019, but still hasn’t shown why team paid more than $10 million to acquire him. Two of the team’s remaining Homegrowns, Andrew Carleton and Lagos Kunga, are on season-long loans with USL clubs.

Under de Boer, centerback Miles Robinson, the team’s first draft pack, did flourish last season, finishing in the top five in voting for the MLS Defender of the Year.