Many people I have spoken to as I have walked around Mercedes-Benz Stadium this year, have voiced the same concerns that seem to come up. The odd thing Atlanta fans seem to be worried about is the same thing many fans worry about for all their favorite professional sports teams: Are we better than last year?
This analysis has always struck me as somewhat counter intuitive, for a number of reasons. Firstly every year there are going to be changes in the squad. Soccer, especially in the MLS with salary caps makes swapping inevitable. When I thought about how I was going to answer my fellow United fans question, I suddenly realized I had delved into the subject myself only a few days before.
This was my analysis:
Obviously the largest outgoing player from last year was the star Paraguayan Migel Almiron. His transfer to Newcastle was a successful one by measure of a 1st year in the EPL. It was cut short at the end of the season due to a knee injury. Personally I believe the largest loss was not of any player, but was of the great Tata Martino. Our former head coach of the year put a spark in our players like great coaches always seem to do. He brought the team together for one common purpose, and they achieved it. Tactics and how coaches handle their players can make clubs or break them.
If you want two good examples of how hiring the wrong coach can go bad, here are two examples of success and failure: Jurgen Klopp, the former Dortmund head man won the Bundesliga under his old club, which is an incredible feat with Bayern Munich playing with half the German National team in the squad. Then he comes to Liverpool, and in just a few years, Champions League winners.
An example of a disaster? David Moyes. Although he has had sucsess since the debacle at Manchester United, after the beloved Sir Alex Furgeson retired. The Reds went from best to nearly middle of the table in just one year. That is how drastic a change in manager can be. Manchester United, one of the wealthiest clubs in the world fell victim to a coaching blunder.
So what about Atlanta? Did we hire the right man? All signs are pointing to yes. Frank de Boer seems to have picked up right whee Tata left off. Last year our record at this time was 14W-6D-4L, and 2nd in the division. This year it is 11W-3D-9L, and we are still in the 2nd spot in the division. Strikingly similar given the absence of Migel Almiron.
It seems almost unquestionable that some of those losses were attributed to the injuries we have sustained over the season. Even with those injuries United seem to be poised to be back in a great spot when the playoffs begin. The team should be healthier, and they will become even more adhesive as a team throughout the end of the season.
As a whole it certainly seems like our Atlanta United will certainly be able to compete at the highest level of the MLS for a second year. Certainly teams like LAFC and LA Galaxy, as well as others would be quite a mountain to climb. Nevertheless if our fans keep coming out like they do every single game, and cheer on our beloved Champion soccer team of the South, there is very little doubt that the odds makers would put too many bets against us.