Frank De Boer out as Atlanta United coach after dismal restart

ATLANTA — Frank de Boer is out as coach of Atlanta United.

After a dismal performance in the MLS Is Back tournament, the team stunningly announced Friday that it had mutually agreed to part with de Boer, who nearly guided the team to the MLS Cup championship game a season ago.

It was another short coaching stint for the former Dutch national team star, who previously was let go by Inter Milan in Italy’s Serie A in 2016 and Crystal Palace in England’s Premier League in 2017.

De Boer endured an up-and-down campaign in his first year with Atlanta, but the team won both the Campeones Cup and U.S. Open Cup before making a strong run at defending its MLS Cup title. United lost at home to Toronto in the Eastern Conference final.

United won its first two games this season before play was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the opener was marred when 2018 league MVP Josef Martinez, one of the league’s most dynamic scorers, went down with a knee injury that will likely keep him out for the rest of 2020.

When play resumed with the tournament in central Florida, Atlanta United lost all three of its group games by 1-0 scores. With de Boer facing heavy criticism for his team’s lack of creativity, and calls for a radical change in style, the team decided to make a change at the top.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had with Atlanta United,” de Boer said in a statement issued by the club. “Coaching in Major League Soccer and living in Atlanta has been a wonderful experience and a welcome new challenge. I will never forget the incredible supporters here in Atlanta, they are truly special. I want to thank the players, coaches and staff for all of their support, it has been my pleasure to work with all of you.”

The team also announced the departure of assistant coaches Orlando Trustfull and Bob de Klerk and video analyst Erwin Koenis. The club plans to announce an interim coach shortly while beginning a search for de Boer’s permanent replacement.

It has some time to work with, having been eliminated from the Florida tournament’s playoff phase and now awaiting the resumption of the regular season.

The poor showing at the MLS Is Back tournament turned up the heat on de Boer, who never seemed to win over the team’s passionate fan base. He had some huge shoes to fill taking over for Tata Martino shortly after United won the league championship in 2018 in just its second season in the league.

Martino, who left to take over the Mexican national team, was a charismatic figure who built his team on an attacking, highly entertaining style of play. De Boer preferred a more defensive approach, which occasionally put him as odds with his players and was frequently criticized by the club’s supporters — no small consideration for a franchise that has set numerous MLS attendance records.

Martinez’s injury and the four-month league shutdown put a crimp in de Boer’s plans to build off the momentum his team showed late in the 2019 season.

Team president Darren Eales praised de Boer’s contributions to the team, but it was clear that a change might be coming after United dropped three straight games in the restart, the longest losing streak in team history.

“After discussing it with Frank, the decision was reached mutually to part ways,” Eales said. “In winning two trophies in his first season in charge, he will always be a part of the club’s history, and with great appreciation and respect we wish him all the best in the future.”

De Boer arrived in Atlanta looking to revive a coaching career that sustained serious setbacks in both Italy and England.

He was fired by Inter Milan after only 85 days at the helm, leaving with the team mired in 12th place in Series A. He landed at Crystal Palace the following year, but lasted just 10 weeks before getting dismissed after the team lost its first four Premier League games without scoring a goal.

Now, after making it through one full season, he’s endured the same sort of finish in Atlanta.

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