ATLANTA, Ga. — Atlanta United’s 4-0 victory over CS Herediano in the Concacaf Champions League Thursday night secured the team’s passage to the next round of the competition. No longer can questions be asked about how the squad will be managed to juggle the competition concurrently with the team’s MLS campaign that kicks off this Sunday against D.C. United at Audi Field (6 pm ET | ESPN in US, TSN2 in Canada).
Asked in the days leading up to Thursday’s second leg of the Round of 16, players were purely focused on one objective.
“I haven’t even thought about D.C. to be honest with you. We’ll worry about that when Friday comes,” Julian Gressel said Tuesday.
Brad Guzan added in the pre-match press conference: “We haven’t started the league, so this is the only competition we’re currently in.”
Well, the MLS opener is on the horizon now, and with a trip to the nation’s capital quickly approaching, the question can no longer be dodged.
Frank de Boer told inquiring media Thursday night that he will navigate this season using all of his players. If it holds true, it'll be a departure from the days under former coach "Tata" Martino, who clearly had a core group of players he relied upon for the team’s biggest matches.
“If we're going to play these tournaments, we need 30 players, not just 11 guys,” De Boer said after the match. “We need everyone on the roster who's able to step up.
“You want to see that everybody has his role in the team,” he added.
Speaking to media before the team’s trip to Costa Rica for the first leg last week, De Boer talked about his plans to keep the squad fresh and fit for all competitions. The Dutchman explained that the coaching staff and medical staff will keep a close eye on performance levels to ensure players aren’t overworked during the season.
“We have to rotate. For example, [George] Bello, he’s just 17. You can’t play him in all the games,” said De Boer. “So we need Brek [Shea], and vice versa. We need them both, and same for all the other players. You’re going to have so many traveling hours and so many games in front of us, so we have to rotate.”
It’s impossible to know now who will be selected for the team’s MLS opener, but De Boer’s matchday squads might offer some clues. For example, with Gressel having played 180 minutes in the first week of action at a physically-intense wing-back position, his German teammate Gordon Wild could be in for his first appearance with Atlanta United’s senior team.
“I feel okay. I had a tiny little cramp there in the last two minutes... but we’ll have a few days to recover,” said Gressel, who’s opened his 2019 campaign with two goals in two games. “If I have to play Sunday, then great. I want to be on the field and start the MLS season right.”