Atlanta United head coach Frank de Boer hugs midfielder Justin Meram after falling 2-1 to Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday, October 30, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Despite early bumps in the road, De Boer pleased with Atlanta United progress

Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said he has ideas for how to improve the team’s roster, has discussed those ideas with Vice President Carlos Bocanegra and that he is happy with the team’s progress under his stewardship in the first season.

Atlanta United’s season ended with a 2-1 loss to Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals of the MLS playoffs.

“I’m still happy with what I saw today,” de Boer said Wednesday after the game. “It gives me a lot of confidence for next season.”

In de Boer’s first season -- the team’s third -- the club won the Campeones Cup, the U.S. Open Cup, advanced a round in its first Champions League, and saw the development of several players, including centerback Miles Robinson, who finished third in the league’s Defender of the Year voting, and midfielder Ezequiel Barco.

“There’s 22 other teams sitting at home that didn’t play today,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said. “There’s a bunch of other teams that didn’t win the Open Cup. I’d say it’s a good year. If you’re a team that is consistently playing for trophies, then I think you could say it’s a good year. You’re putting yourself in a position to win, and that’s what we’ve tried to do here.”

The successes came in spite of the team selling before the season attacker Miguel Almiron, arguably its best and most important player. It came despite injuries to key players such as Barco, George Bello, Brek Shea and Kevin Kratz, among others throughout the season, including Robinson in the playoffs. It came despite an offseason that lasted slightly more than a month, which was brief, and then a season in which it played more games (47) than any other team in MLS.

Lastly, it came with its new manager, who took time to put his style on the squad. 

De Boer spent the early part of the season focusing on improving the team’s defense. He reasoned that Almiron helped mask some fundamental defensive issues. He wanted to strengthen those issues as part of preparation for the Champions League and the beginning of the MLS season.

The results were mostly boring soccer, with few wins, which combined to result in neither de Boer, his players nor the team’s supporters being satisfied. 

Eventually, de Boer and the players realized and communicated how best to work together and the results, and style of play, improved.

“He changed as a coach. I think we all evolved as players, as a coaching staff, as a whole group, and that was a big step that we took,” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “Sometimes, you don’t really know what you get with a new coach. It was difficult to start, but we were able to rally together. I don’t want to speak about myself essentially but about all the guys in the locker room, I think you guys should know that we’re a bunch of winners in there, and that’s all we want to do.

“So it’s difficult, this pill. It’s difficult to swallow, but credit to the coaching staff and all the guys in the locker room to be able to rally together and then turn this year around after a slow start.”

That flexibility and adaptability to change formations and style was something de Boer said after Wednesday’s game that he was proud of. But he still wants to see the defense improve.

“We can swap systems and I think that’s a big advantage,” he said. “The other side, we struggled in the beginning on when to play compact and when to play very aggressive forward. That improved over the last couple of weeks. I’m quite pleased now with how the development went this season.” 

 

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