Under heavy disapproval of a poor start to his tenure in charge of Atlanta United, head coach Frank De Boer has looked to rebuff critics by telling fans they have been “spoiled” by the club’s early success.
The club opened its season with a 3-1 loss to Mexican club Herediano, and while they produced a massive 4-0 win in the second leg to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, but they slumped again in the first leg in a 3-0 defeat to Monterrey.
Their league start has also been a struggle. After losing to D.C. United to start the year, they drew 1-1 on Sunday with FC Cincinnati in a game that saw Atlanta go in front early but concede in the last few minutes, de Boer has heard the noise.
“Of course they [Atlanta fans] were a little spoiled with the results of last season,” De Boer said after the defeat to Cincinnati. “Everybody expected [similar results], and that’s also normal.”
De Boer believes the abrupt start to the season due to the continental competition has put them at a disadvantage, citing last season’s strugglers as an example.
“Everybody also saw what happened with Toronto when they played the [CONCACAF] Champions League last season. Out of nothing we were induced to play every three days a game, and now I think in 17 games we play five games or something like that. That’s a lot.”
Last season, after winning the MLS title the year before, Toronto FC reached the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League, but it appeared to have a taxing effect on their league campaign. They lost four of their first five MLS games and finished the year with the third-fewest points in the league.
When asked about fans booing the club, de Boer said it’s not fair to the players who have given their all to start the year.
“I don’t think it’s fair because I think everybody worked very hard for it and it’s not that they didn’t give 100%,” De Boer said. “They [Cincinnati] had their first chance in the 85th minute, so it’s very hard to concede a goal like that. Defensively we were standing very well in the last three, they did fantastic I think. I think it’s not fair to the team.”
Finally, de Boer said he thinks teams are beginning to adjust to Atlanta’s style, packing in defensively and forcing them to play a patient style of attack.
“It’s always very difficult against a team that plays so good organized with so many people in their own half,” de Boer said. “I played for a long time with Ajax and as a coach, teams expect you to just expect you to create chances and play in their own half. That’s the most difficult to play as a football team; everybody knows when you have space you can create more or in transition, but this when they drop very deep in their own half, we have to be secure with those individual actions sometimes and make some runs to create space and make them stretch, and hopefully you can get in between the lines. We have to accept that and have to understand what kind of moments when you have to play long and when you have to play in between the lines.”
Ultimately, telling fans they should expect less so early into a job is probably an ill-advised strategy. Given de Boer’s tendency to perform poorly early into recent jobs, including struggles in short tenures with Crystal Palace and Inter, it’s probably in his best interest to avoid telling Atlanta fans to accept losing.