Frank de Boer

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De Boer makes a most satisfying comeback with ATLUTD

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) Frank De Boer never seems to get flustered. The stoic Dutchman can switch from one language to another with ease. He speaks bluntly and rarely betrays any sense of doubt in his coaching abilities.

Yet, this has been a year when he’s had to show some flexibility.

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Maybe he didn’t have all the answers. Perhaps he needed to listen to his players a bit more.

“As a coach, you want to put your stamp a little bit on the team,” de Boer said after a training session at Atlanta United’s glitzy suburban complex. “But in the beginning, maybe we did it too much. We put too much stamp on it.”

De Boer chuckles.

He is clearly enjoying this most rewarding of comebacks.

After failing so miserably in Serie A and the Premier League, then enduring a sluggish start and some missteps away from the field in Atlanta, de Boer has guided United to the cusp of its second straight championship in Major League Soccer. His club will host Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference final on Wednesday night before another raucous crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with the winner advancing to face either Los Angeles FC or the Seattle Sounders for the MLS Cup title.

“I knew it’s always difficult coming to a new culture. They have to know you. I have to know the players. So it always takes time,” de Boer said. “You think, `OK, everything is going to be very easy, you’re going to win your games easily.’ No, it’s not like that. That why I chose Atlanta United. I wanted to feel that they would give me time.”

Arriving in Atlanta not long after United had given this title-starved city its first major championship since baseball’s Braves in 1995, de Boer faced immediate skepticism. He replaced the immensely popular Tata Martino, who needed only two years to transform an expansion team into a champion before leaving to become coach of the Mexican national team.

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De Boer had lasted mere months at both Inter Milan and Crystal Palace, his two previous coaching stops.

When United went out in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League and managed just one win in its first six MLS matches, it looked like de Boer might be headed for another short coaching stint in Atlanta.

“Of course, from the beginning, we wanted a good result,” de Boer said. “But still, we knew if it’s not going well, the confidence is there. We can build something here. I’m very pleased with that.”

A proponent of the “Total Football” philosophy that is ingrained in the Dutch game, with its value on possession and the flexibility to float from one position to another while maintaining the lineup’s organizational structure, de Boer seemed to be imposing a style that just didn’t mesh with a club built on the counter-attacking, seemingly chaotic system Martino preferred.

The squad had just one season before suddenly looking all out of sync, struggling to create scoring chances.

In retrospect, de Boer was probably too heavy-handed in dealing with his new team

He needed to win them over first.

“We obviously came off a very successful year playing a certain way. We were like, `Why would we change it just because a new coach is coming in?'” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “It was maybe two extremes going at each other.”

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De Boer didn’t exactly endear himself to Atlanta’s fans, who have shattered virtually every attendance record in MLS, by calling them “spoiled” – a remark he quickly apologized for while explaining that it carried a different connotation in his native language. He would stir of more controversy by saying the demand for equal pay in women’s international soccer was “ridiculous,” leading to another hasty apology.

But the criticism faded as Atlanta finally began to resemble a defending champion.

In addition to a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference (the same spot they finished a year ago under Martino, though with 11 fewer points), United added a pair of trophies to its collection by winning the U.S. Open Cup – and a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League – as well as the Campeones Cup with a thrilling victory over Mexican powerhouse America.

“We’ve talked a lot and found a way to be successful,” Gressel said. “Frank obviously has adjusted. He’s talked a lot with a lot of guys. Communication has been, obviously, the key factor during that tough stretch at the beginning of the year. We’ve come out on the better end of it.”

United won its first two playoff games with shutout victories over New England and Philadelphia despite the absence of star defender Miles Robinson, who is out with a hamstring injury. Atlanta gained another home game in the conference final when top-seeded New York City FC was upset by Toronto.

Each victory takes de Boer a little farther from his embarrassing stint at Inter Milan, where he was sacked after less than three months. And that dismally short tenure at Crystal Palace, where he lasted just four Premier League games before getting a pink slip.

“After six months, you can normally see a little bit the hand of the manager, what he wants,” de Boer said. “I think if you’ve won two titles and are still involved for the most precious of titles, you can be satisfied.”

But, he quickly added, “I want to win everything.”

Atlanta heads into MLS playoffs looking to defend its Cup

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) It’s been a strange season for Atlanta United.

They’ve added more two more cups to their collection.

They’ve endured some rather baffling losses.

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After all that, the defending MLS Cup champions are heading into the postseason from essentially the same position as last season.

Atlanta, which was runner-up in the Eastern Conference, will host the New England Revolution on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs, a rematch of their Oct. 6 game to close out the regular season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent spot, as strange as the season has maybe been,” midfielder Julian Gressel said Wednesday after a training session. “We’ve already won two trophies, and now we have a chance for a third.”

In mid-August, United broke out the champagne after a 3-2 victory over Mexican powerhouse Club America to capture the Campeones Cup.

A couple of weeks later, they were celebrating again with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup final, guaranteeing a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

“I felt like we were always there and pretty much at our best in those games,” Gressel said. “That’s why I’m pretty confident we’ll be at our best when it really matters.”

But there are reasons to be concerned. Atlanta struggled badly in some league games – especially on the road – and rarely looked like the dynamic team that won the MLS Cup in just its second year under former coach Tata Martino.

With Frank De Boer now at the helm, United got off to a sluggish start and spent much of the season juggling lineups and switching up tactics in a desperate bid to find some consistency. Atlanta never put together an unbeaten streak longer than five games – it had three such stretches a year ago – and finished with 58 points, 58 goals and a plus-15 goal differential. All were short of the 69 points, 70 goals and plus-26 differential from the 2018 season.

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Still, United’s second-place showing in the East behind New York City FC matches last year’s finish, guaranteeing the team at least one home game in the playoffs and another in the conference semifinals should it beat the Revolution.

That’s a crucial edge for a franchise that has essentially broken every MLS attendance record and again averaged more than 52,000 per game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, doubling up every team in the league except Seattle and Cincinnati. In 17 home games, Atlanta lost only twice.

While United closed out the season with a 3-1 victory over New England, the Revolution has been one of the league’s hottest teams over the second half of the season.

Atlanta will be further tested by the possible absence of its best defender, Miles Robinson, who is dealing with a strained left hamstring sustained during a workout with the U.S. national team last week.

If Robinson can’t go, United will have to change up their lineup once again and possibly adopt a more defensive approach to Saturday’s game.

“If I do push up, it’s more so getting back a little faster than I normally would, things like that,” said midfielder Darlington Nagbe, one of those who may be affected if Robinson can’t go. “Just feel the game out and see how it plays out.”

In the regular-season finale, Ezequiel Barco got the start over Pity Martinez, a lineup that de Boer might go with again in the playoffs.

Barco played only 15 league games this season because of injuries and a lengthy stint with Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but he provided the sort of spark de Boer was looking for against New England. Martinez, who was the 2018 South American player of the year and Atlanta’s major acquisition during the last offseason, has struggled to find his nice in MLS with just five goals in 32 appearances.

“We have to see,” de Boer said. “The only thing that concerns me is to win the playoffs.”

MLS switched up the playoff format this season. Instead of the top two teams from both the East and the West receiving byes and two-legged rounds to determine the winner of conference semifinals and finals, only the first-place finisher gets the opening round off and every step of the playoffs is a single-game elimination.

There is no room for error.

“If you have an off day, you might be out,” Gressel said. “I feel like it’s a format that favors the underdog a bit more, or gives the underdog a bit more hope.”

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De Boer worries after Josef Martinez stretchered off for Atl Utd

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Josef Martinez saw the end of his remarkable 15-match MLS scoring streak on Sunday, and there’s a question of when he’ll be able to start a new one.

[ RECAP: Atl Utd 3-1 San Jose ]

Martinez was stretchered off the field late in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat of San Jose, and the Venezuelan super scorer’s status is unknown.

Atlanta manager Frank De Boer said at one point that he’s “afraid it’s something serious” in a reply to Spanish-speaking media, but was non-committal about the injury other than to express confidence the Five Stripes could find a solution in his absence.

“We know Josef a little bit. He’s a tough guy. He will not suddenly step off the field. He will have something, that’s for sure. But we have to wait. It’s too early to predict. But I think it’s not a good sign that he goes off. We have to deal with it. Again, we have to wait.”

Martinez was injured in the 79th minute of his third-start in seven days, and he went the distance in the first two. That’s a lot of soccer for a workhorse striker.

He has 76 goals in 81 MLS matches, and has been linked with a move to the Premier League.

Atlanta’s alternatives include using Hector Villalba up top or hoping for the best from center forwards Brandon Vazquez, the 20-year-old with two goals in nine MLS appearances this season, and Romario Williams, who’s only played more than 15 minutes once since July and has one goal on the season.

Cross your fingers, Five Stripes.

Red-hot Martinez extends record as Atlanta edge Orlando (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  Josef Martinez remains unstoppable, scoring in a record 12 consecutive games. Throughout that span, the Venezuelan has recorded 17 goals, with one of those giving Atlanta United the 1-0 victory against rival Orlando City on Friday night. The talk of the league remain Carlos Vela – deservingly so – but Martinez continues to put together another superlative season. The Five Stripes, who have won five straight league games, continue on a positive trend, too. Worried after a slow start to the season under Frank De Boer, the defending MLS Cup champions regain the top position in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Orlando – winless in their last two – will look to bounce back quickly as they remain tied with seventh place Montreal.

Three moments that mattered

10′ — Tesho misses a clear one-on-one early on  — Tesho had everything going for him, but then he failed to finish.

60′ — Martinez continues to score  — Aside from Vela, no one has been more reliable than the Venezuelan when it comes to scoring goals.

88′ — Villalba nearly makes it two for Atlanta — The Five Stripes were this close of ending things early against their rivals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Miles Robinson

Goalscorers: Martinez (60′)

Frank de Boer calls equal pay at international level ‘ridiculous’

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The Atlanta United manager has given his frank opinion on the US Women’s National Team’s fight for equal pay.

In an interview with The Guardian, Frank De Boer called the concept of equal pay between men’s and women’s teams “ridiculous,” saying that women don’t deserve to be paid the same as men because they don’t “deserve” it based on viewership.

“I think for me, it’s ridiculous,” De Boer said in the interview. “It’s the same like tennis. If there are watching, for the World Cup final, 500 million people or something like that, and 100 million for a women’s final, that’s a difference. So it’s not the same. And of course they have to be paid what they deserve and not less, just what they really deserve. If it’s just as popular as the men, they will get it, because the income and the advertising will go into that. But it’s not like that, so why do they have to earn the same? I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t understand that.”

In the United States, the women sued the national association in March for gender discrimination due to pay and investment differentials. De Boer says that while equal pay should exist throughout society, women should make the same only when – according to him – it’s earned.

“I think it started because a woman [was] getting underpaid, especially at [managerial] positions,” he said. “They have to earn the same as a man. I think if you have a manager position for a bank or something, you have to earn the same what the men did because it’s not physically, just only here [points to head], so why do you have to earn less, because you’re doing the same job as a man? I think that’s also dropped a little bit into the sports world, like tennis and soccer. But I think that’s still different.”

In de Boer’s home country of the Netherlands, where the women reached the final of the Women’s World Cup this past summer, the national association agreed to a new contract where the women will receive yearly raises for the next five years until their pay reaches the same level as the men.

In the U.S., the Women’s World Cup final featuring the USWNT drew 22% more viewers than the 2018 World Cup final between France and Croatia. The WWC final was the most-watched soccer match in the country since the 2015 Women’s World Cup final. Women on the U.S. National Team could earn a maximum of about $261,000, while a male player on the World Cup squad can earn about $1,115,000.