De Boer takes over At­lanta United with big shoes to fill

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL SPORTS - By Paul New­berry AP Sports Writer

Frank de Boer was sacked by In­ter Mi­lan af­ter less than three months on the job.

He lasted just four Pre­mier League games at Crys­tal Palace.

Now, af­ter two short-lived coach­ing stints, de Boer has a chance to re­vive his ca­reer with the wildly pop­u­lar cham­pi­ons of Ma­jor League Soc­cer.

The long­time stal­wart of the Dutch na­tional team has taken over at At­lanta United, which won the MLS Cup in just its sec­ond sea­son while break­ing numer­ous at­ten­dance records.

De Boer said it is a shot at redemp­tion, while also stress­ing that his chances of suc­cess are much greater in At­lanta.

“Of course, you have to learn from your mis­takes, but also about or­ga­ni­za­tions that aren’t good and or­ga­nized and struc­tured like At­lanta United,” he said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the team’s sub­ur­ban train­ing fa­cil­ity at the start of last week.

With his two pre­vi­ous em­ploy­ers, de Boer added, “There was no co­he­sion be­tween all the de­part­ments. Ev­ery­thing was sep­a­rate. Now, we have a feel­ing, ‘OK, I don’t have to look around for the dead body in the closet or be­hind the closet.’ Ev­ery­thing is very clear and struc­tured.”

He rep­re­sented his coun­try 112 times on the field, most notably de­liv­er­ing a tow­er­ing 60-yard pass that set up Den­nis Bergkamp’s win­ning goal against Argentina in the clos­ing min­utes of a 1998 World Cup quar­ter­fi­nal. De Boer moved into coach­ing af­ter his play­ing ca­reer ended, lead­ing Dutch pow­er­house Ajax to a record four straight Ere­di­visie ti­tles.

Tak­ing over at In­ter Mi­lan in 2016, de Boer failed to match the suc­cess he had in his na­tive coun­try. The Ital­ian club strug­gled in both Serie A and Europa League com­pe­ti­tions, which led to his fir­ing on Nov. 1 with the club mired in 12th place.

His ten­ure lasted just 85 days.

The fol­low­ing sum­mer, de Boer was hired by Crys­tal Palace. De­spite mod­est ex­pec­ta­tions — the team was coming off a 15th-place show­ing the pre­vi­ous sea­son, fin­ish­ing just five points above the rel­e­ga­tion zone — the coach was quickly fired again af­ter Crys­tal be­came the first team in 93 years to lose its first four matches in the top flight without scor­ing a goal.

At­lanta United is in a much dif­fer­ent po­si­tion, hav­ing quickly be­come MLS’ flag­ship fran­chise on and off the field. The team has a clear power struc­ture led by owner Arthur Blank, team pres­i­dent Dar­ren Eales and tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Car­los Bo­cane­gra — a setup that was ap­peal­ing to de Boer.

“For me, that is so much eas­ier,” he said. “The 5 1/2 sea­sons that I was work­ing for Ajax as a head coach ... it cost me less en­ergy than the eight months at In­ter and Crys­tal Palace. I was al­ready start­ing to get gray hairs.”

De Boer cer­tainly has some big shoes to fill.

In two years as United’s coach, Tata Martino in­stilled an at­tack­ing style of play that was a big hit with the fans and hugely suc­cess­ful on the field. The club av­er­aged more than 53,000 per game this sea­son, eas­ily eclips­ing its own record, and thrilled the city by cap­tur­ing the MLS Cup cham­pi­onship in De­cem­ber.

Martino stepped down to take over as Mexico’s na­tional coach.

The ex­pec­ta­tions re­main the same.

“Every­body ex­pects a lot from At­lanta United,” de Boer said. “That’s nor­mal when you’re a cham­pion.”

De Boer’s team is still a work in progress. MVP run­ner-up Miguel Alm­iron was ex­pected to trans­fer to the Pre­mier League dur­ing the Jan­uary win­dow, but no deal has been reached. He re­ported Mon­day for the start of At­lanta’s train­ing camp.

River Plate star Pity Martinez an­nounced last month that he had a deal to come to At­lanta, sup­pos­edly as Alm­iron’s re­place­ment in the mid­field, but that’s on hold for the mo­ment. United al­ready has three des­ig­nated play­ers who are ex­empt from the salary cap: Alm­iron, record-set­ting goal scorer and league MVP Josef Martinez, and 19-yearold Eze­quiel Barco.

Less than six weeks re­moved from its MLS Cup tri­umph, At­lanta United re­ported for camp to be­gin pre­par­ing for its first ap­pear­ance in the CONCACAF Cham­pi­ons League. The team opens with a home-and-home se­ries against Costa Ri­can club Here­di­ano late next month, just ahead of the MLS sea­son opener.

At­lanta United is ea­ger to be­come the first MLS club to win the con­ti­nen­tal cham­pi­onship since the league for­mat be­gan in 2008. Mex­i­can teams have won 10 straight ti­tles, in­clud­ing Chivas’ thrilling vic­tory over Toronto FC last year that came down to penalty kicks.

“We need to have an MLS club win it,” Eales said. “It would be great if that could be At­lanta United.”

But pulling off a CONCACAF ti­tle, while also main­tain­ing suc­cess in league play, presents a daunt­ing chal­lenge for the new coach. Toronto put its em­pha­sis on win­ning the Cham­pi­ons League and wound up miss­ing the MLS play­offs.

“We’re not naive. We saw what hap­pened to Toronto,” Eales said. “It’s go­ing to be tough. But we want to be com­pet­ing on all fronts.”

/ AP-Paul New­berry

New At­lanta United coach Frank de Boer, right, speaks at an introductory news con­fer­ence while the team’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor, Car­los Bo­cane­gra, looks on, Mon­day. De Boer is look­ing to re­vive his coach­ing ca­reer with the MLS Cup cham­pi­ons af­ter short stints in his two pre­vi­ous jobs at Crys­tal Palace and In­ter Mi­lan.

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