Atlanta United Football Club came into Wednesday night’s clash against CF Monterrey needing four goals to advance to the semifinal stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. However, United showed the 40,048 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium they listened to the criticism and responded with an inspired performance, resulting an a 1-0 win. However, Monterrey advanced 3-1 on aggregate.
During the week, Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer apologized for calling the fans “spoiled” because of their high expectations after winning the MLS Cup last December. The Netherlands native said the word has a different connotation in his homeland. A firestorm ensued on social media and sports talk radio, as the merits of FDB’s hire were questioned. Fans wondered if his pragmatic style of football would fit the dynamic and sometimes flashy attacking philosophy Tata Martino employed during his tenure. Moreover, people questioned if FDB even lost some of the Latin American members of the dressing room if he insisted on playing the Dutch brand of “total football.”
Moreover, the announced attendance of 40,048 was the smallest ever crowd for an Atlanta United match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Ezequiel Barco, Pity Martínez, Josef Martínez, plus wingbacks Mikey Ambrose and Julian Gressel were able to make runs, getting behind defenders as they searched for scoring chances in the first half.
In the second half, de Boer began to relax. As the chance to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals was slipping away, de Boer threw on fan favorite Tito Villalba to replace Pity Martínez in the 65th minute. Immediately, Villalba gave Atlanta an attacking threat down the right wing, as his spirit and tenacity lifted the crowd. Twelve minutes later, Josef Martínez scored a goal as a result of Atlanta United becoming more direct in the final third. A wish granted by de Boer that pleased a lot of his early detractors.
As the game wound to a close, defender Miles Robinson was named Man of the Match as he shut down Monterrey and Argentina forward Funes Mori throughout the full 90 minutes. Fans left Mercedes-Benz Stadium feeling the side can build upon this result. Frank de Boer said he loved the energy from the team he believes they can grow from this result.
Atlanta United returns to Mercedes-Benz Stadium this Sunday to face the Philadelphia Union. Kickoff is 7:00 PM. It will end a span of seven matches in 24 days in three different countries (Costa Rica, Mexico and USA). Because of the international break and scheduling quirks, Atlanta United will play only one match (at Columbus on March 30, 7:30 PM) in 26 days between March 18 and April 12.
There should be lots of time to iron out the kinks to Frank de Boer’s brand of total football.