Eales explains decisions behind Atlanta United managerial change

Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer watches the team as they practice at their training facility at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in Marietta.
Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer watches the team as they practice at their training facility at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in Marietta.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Frank de Boer and club mutually agreed to part ways last week

Because Atlanta United holds itself to the highest standard, club President Darren Eales said the decision to move on from Frank de Boer had to be made.

Speaking exclusively to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday, Eales said that it could have been easy for the club to drift during this odd season that has included a long break for COVID-19, but that he didn’t want to settle for mediocrity. That is why when he and de Boer met Friday at the team’s training ground in Marietta, they agreed a new direction was needed.

“We want to be a top club and play in a way that’s exciting, dynamic and winning trophies,” Eales said.

Eales said he chatted with owner Arthur Blank before Friday about the direction of the club. The players weren’t consulted about the decision. De Boer declined to comment for this article.

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De Boer leaves with the team mired in a four-game losing streak and a scoreless streak of 395 minutes. His record was 20-15-4, as well as winning the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup.

De Boer was hired in December 2018 with the belief that he would continue to play an attacking style of soccer installed by his predecessor, Gerardo Martino. It took most of the season for that happen. Last year’s start, with one win in the first five league games, looked very much like the team’s play this year in the Orlando tournament.

But de Boer did get things partially turned forward, with perhaps the best example being the defeat of Club America to win the Campeones Cup in August. Eales said he recognized that it’s always tricky being a defending champion and that the club was proud of what it achieved under de Boer last season. It finished with the most points ever for a defending champ (58). The club came within a missed penalty kick of likely hosting the MLS Cup for the second consecutive year. Its accomplishments came despite the club selling arguably its best player, Miguel Almiron, before the 2019 season.

Following the 2019 season, the team traded keystone players Julian Gressel and Darlington Nagbe and sold Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Hector Villalba.

Progress didn’t continue into 2020. The club won its first two games against expansion-side Nashville and then Cincinnati, but didn’t look convincing. Losing Josef Martinez to a season-ending injury didn’t help and not having another striker with a similar playing style also was a factor. And Eales recognized that COVID-19 has affected everyone differently.

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But then came a chance for a restart in Orlando, Fla., with hope. De Boer reverted back to a formation for Orlando that didn’t work and the players seemed not to know what they were being asked to do, based upon the lack of results. Curiously, in the final game with his team losing 1-0 to Columbus and needing a win to potentially stay alive in the tournament, de Boer subbed off his only healthy striker at halftime.

It was a curious move in a series of curious moves made by de Boer in Orlando.

The Five Stripes were the only one of 24 clubs competing not to score in the tournament.

“We never took that next step,” Eales said. “There are always going to be challenges, it’s about how you adapt.

“This is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone is culpable to some degree. If you want to be a team that’s aspiring for the top, you have to make those decisions. You’ll never get everything right. Falls on all of us to step it up. It’s certainly not one person’s fault.”

Eales said he believes that de Boer was given a roster good enough to play an attacking style. The team added Brooks Lennon, Matheus Rossetto, Manuel Castro, Adam Jahn, Jake Mulraney and Fernando Meza, among others.

“We have a way we know those players can play,” Eales said. “It wasn’t happening on the pitch. Less so on the result and more so on the general direction of travel.”

Eales said he has nothing but admiration for de Boer as a human, saying that he’s a soccer guy “through and through.”

“My job is to take all the facts in and make the right decision for the club moving forward,” Eales said. “Clear to me that on Friday that this was the best decision, taking into account all the circumstances.”

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