Sounder at Heart: The Frank de Boer and Pity Martinez era hasn’t necessarily been gangbusters so far, although it’s looked a bit better in recent weeks. What have been the pressure points between manager and player and how has it affected the team as a whole?
Dirty South Soccer: There’s a lot to unpack regarding fans’ opinions of these two, and how those opinions have ebbed and flowed throughout the season. But as of late, de Boer has become more vocal with media with his honest opinions of how Pity Martinez’s shortcomings affect the team. It’s important to understand that de Boer comes from the Louis van Gaal division of Dutch football—not Cruyff’s. I say “division” because while both legends wanted their teams to play with the same overarching philosophy, van Gaal’s coaching style and demands of players are much more... intense. As such, Frank de Boer’s system is less capable of carrying “luxury players”—those who can basically spend the whole game floating into space even when the team is without the ball. And that’s the kind of player Pity has shown himself to be in Atlanta, despite the fact that Pity played for a manager at River Plate in Marcelo Gallardo who isn’t known for carrying passengers. In the team’s most recent U.S. Open Cup game—a 2-0 win over Saint Louis FC—Pity looked to have a different energy about him, immediately throwing himself into challenges from the jump. He’s still learning to deal with referees who allow for more physical/dangerous challenges in this league, but it feels like Pity may be turning a corner.
SAH: The secondary transfer window has just opened. Atlanta already added Emerson Hyndman, who had a decent debut in the US Open Cup. Are there other areas of the pitch that Atlanta need to address in this window?
DSS: Seemingly every fan base in MLS outside of New Jersey wants better fullbacks, and Atlanta United is no different. Brek Shea has improved as of late, but still isn’t convincing playing LB in a back 4 (which is admittedly not the position the team signed him to play). Michael Parkhurst, Mikey Ambrose, and Florentin Pogba have all rotated in at that position, but all have various glaring deficiencies. On the other side, Atlanta has one of the best right backs in the league in Franco Escobar, but no backup whatsoever. Again, Parkhurst has filled in there, and Julian Gressel could do so in a pinch, but neither are ideal. Considering the team has so many options they can go to in a given game at LB, I think it’s more likely the team reinforces the RB position.
SAH: Is there anything about a full strength Sounders team that scares you? What can the Sounders do to exploit Atlanta?
DSS: The Sounders always scare me. I don’t know what it is about them, but they are always a difficult team to play against. Like, annoyingly so. When I ask Atlanta United fans about their least favorite home game in club history, it’s last year’s 1-1 against Seattle. I don’t know how Brian Schmetzer can be such a nice, good, person and get his team to play such a cynical and defensive style (when needed), but it works, damnit. And I think the style of playing a low block and countering quickly is exactly the tactic that has given Atlanta trouble this season. The thing is, playing at Century Link, will fans urge the team to be a little more forward-thinking and take on more risks? TBD.
SAH: Bonus Question: Seattle v Atlanta has always ended in a draw. Is that going to happen again?
DSS: Bonus Answer: I’m going to say no, only because Atlanta United has yet to draw on the road. The team’s road performances of late have been pretty abysmal, and they especially seem vulnerable in the first five minutes and the last five minutes. I think Seattle wins it.
Read the reverse questions and answers here.