New Atlanta United head coach Frank de Boer revealed some intriguing elements of the backstory behind his move to the Five Stripes in a new interview with Dutch publication De Telegraaf on Monday – and laid down his goals and priorities for the days to come.
Speaking at the MLS Combine in Orlando, the Netherlands legend expressed a desire to make the reigning MLS Cup champions the league’s model club, including a run at the Concacaf Champions League crown. In 2018 Toronto FC came agonizingly close to becoming that competition’s first MLS winners, only to be cruelly denied in a penalty-kick shootout loss to Chivas Guadalajara in the final.
“The audience is the most important,” he said. “We have to entertain people, be there for the people. It is important that Atlanta United becomes an even more important part of the city of Atlanta. From a sporting point of view, it would be wonderful to be the first MLS club to win Concacaf. That is not an easy task against the Mexican champion, but not impossible. Toronto was close last year.
“MLS is up-and-coming, and Atlanta United is a shining example of this,” he said, citing the example of the franchise’s MLS-record acquisition of Argentine starlet Ezequiel Barco. “This club spends $15 million dollars for great talents, which I can continue to develop and prepare for the Premier League, for example. I think many American clubs are going to follow this example.”
De Boer was full of praise for both his new club and the league it plays in, explaining that he’d already been keeping an eye on MLS thanks to some recent superstar signings, as well as previous conversations with Earnie Stewart, the Dutch-American US national team stalwart who directed operations at AZ Alkmaar and the Philadelphia Union before taking up his current role as the USMNT’s general manager.
It was enough to make the United States his next destination ahead of other opportunities in the Middle East, Asia and a late approach from Belgian powers Anderlecht.
“The future of American football looks promising,” said De Boer. “But actually I knew quite a lot already. Partly because I have been following the MLS more and more because of the arrival of Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] and Wayne Rooney.”
He’s also fully aware of – and a fan of – the challenges posed by the league’s salary budget, roster rules and other commitments to parity, which have famously vexed foreign coaches in decades past.
“We deal with a salary cap and MLS does everything possible to create a level playing field,” he noted. “For example, as a wealthy club, we can only take a few charter flights [to away matches], because the less wealthy clubs can not do that more often. The other trips are on a scheduled [commercial] flight. And honestly, that starting point really has something beautiful.”