ATLANTA — It’s been a hectic start to the 2019 season for Atlanta United. Sunday’s 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union was Atlanta’s seventh game in 23 days to start the season. The first three games of Major League Soccer play and a quarterfinals appearance in the Concacaf Champions League allowed little time for recovery between games and for the players to get a complete understanding of new manager Frank de Boer’s tactics.
The results reflect reality, with the Five Stripes proving no match for Monterrey in CCL and claiming a paltry two points in the league. De Boer believes the busy opening prevented Atlanta from winning all three points against the Union.
“You see that we’re missing that little bit of freshness to make a difference, to get a pass to the right man at the right speed, or that first control,” the manager said after the game. “We made still too many errors when it’s not necessary, in my point of view. And I think that the reason mostly is because of the freshness we are missing right now. Hopefully after this international period, we can see a fresh United.”
The Five Stripes have 13 days off before their next game against the Columbus Crew, but there is no rest for the six players, including Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez, who will report for national team duty.
A step back for El Pity
Pity Martínez showed progress in the 1-0 win over Monterrey last Wednesday, even if he was still far below the standard he set at River Plate. On Sunday, he appeared to be the player most affected by fatigue. Opta analytics credited him with three chances created and two fouls won, but none of his three shots were on target, and El Pity completed just 59 percent of his passes, by far the lowest number of any Atlanta player.
“He knows it wasn’t his best game, everybody can see that,” de Boer said. “He has to adapt and everything: a new culture, new circumstances. [Atlanta’s artificial turf] is also something … in Argentina they always played on grass. All those aspects make it quite difficult to start normally.”
Pity Martínez will join the Argentina men’s senior team over the next two weeks for games against Josef Martínez’s Venezuela in Madrid and at Morocco in Tangier.
De Boer sticking to philosophy
Aside from the results, the most jarring aspect of Atlanta United’s season so far is the change in identity. Gone are the days of Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s risky, vertical tactics. In their place are de Boer’s ideas of patience and control.
The manager indicated he isn’t changing his plans with his postgame comments Sunday.
“We have to recognize when we have to play [direct] balls,” de Boer said. “If we do it from the start, [opposing defenders] are organized.”
On his preferred 3-4-3 formation, de Boer explained that he believes “you can do a lot of harm” to an opponent, though he admitted sloppy play in this setup is “really dangerous.” In the locker room, midfielder Ezequiel Barco, who scored Atlanta’s goal against the Union, said the team must continue to work on learning the manager’s system.
“Maybe it takes a little time for everyone to get to understand each other — new players, new coaching staff, new system,” Barco said through an interpreter. “But we’re trying our best.”