Gonzalo Pity Martinez - Atlanta United - March 3, 2019
Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

Early-season congestion, new system leave Atlanta United a work in progress

ATLANTA, Ga. — Frank de Boer is four matches into his Atlanta United tenure, and safe to say, the results have been mixed.

Including their Concacaf Champions League outings, Atlanta have dropped three of their first four competitive matches to start the season, causing some disquiet among certain sections of the Five Stripes Faithful. Now, De Boer and Atlanta will look to tally their first three league points of the season in their home opener against expansion side FC Cincinnati on Sunday (5 pm ET | ESPN in US; TSN4 in Canada).

"We're going to have a lot of respect for them, but they also have to be afraid to come here,” De Boer told media in a press conference Friday. “And they should be because we are the champions. We have to show that we are ready to get three points and give us a positive boost for our next game.”

It’s not just the results that matter here. Under "Tata" Martino, Atlanta were generally successful, but even in losses, Atlanta rarely failed to deliver the entertainment that came with the Argentine’s style. Outside of Atlanta’s 4-0 home win against CS Herediano in Concacaf Champions League, De Boer’s side has only scored one goal (in the away leg vs. Herediano) and struggled in attack against Mexican giants Monterrey and D.C. United, albeit with the latter game being played in torrential conditions. Atlanta newcomer Pity Martinez explained that it will still take some time for everybody to gel.

"We're new playing together. I've never played with them before and I'm new to the team, so I'm trying to get up to speed and get adapted to this group that we have here,” said Martinez. “It's all a learning experience, getting used to a new league, getting used to my new teammates and the style of play here. But I don't think that you've seen the best of what I can do. I don't think you've seen my potential yet in this league, so we're working hard on that.”

The other piece of context to be considered is that De Boer has hardly had any time to drill his team in tactical sessions since the season began. Sunday’s match will be Atlanta’s fourth in a span of 11 days, leaving the squad in a constant state of match preparation and physical recovery. Drilling the players in his 3-4-3 system and fine-tuning the attack are taking a back seat at the moment.

“It's quite hard because the preseason was already short with just five weeks before a very important game,” said De Boer. “Physically, they are ok, but the speed of everything — the quick thinking — you normally [develop] in short-sided games. If you play Sunday to Sunday, you can do that in between. But now, we don't have time to do that.”

The more obvious trouble with the congested fixture list is that De Boer’s top players have logged a considerable amount of minutes this early in the season. He decided against using substitutes in the team’s midweek CCL fixture again Monterrey until the waning moments of stoppage time.

“In 14 days... we’ve traveled more than 6,500 kilometers. That does something to your body,” De Boer said. “We have to accept that, but I think we are still on the right track. We just need a good result and hopefully on Sunday it's a good start.”