MARIETTA, Ga. — Playing their fourth match in 11 days this Wednesday, Atlanta United will travel to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; TSN in Canada) without a full roster as manager Frank de Boer will keep Michael Parkhurst and Darlington Nagbe at home.
May is a busy month for clubs around the league in MLS, but perhaps no team will feel the effects of a congested fixture list more than Atlanta. On Monday, the team embarked on the transcontinental trip to Cascadia, the beginning of a tough stretch of away games. Over the next two weeks during the team’s three consecutive road games, Atlanta will travel about 11,000 miles with trips to Vancouver, New Jersey and Salt Lake City.
The travel adds to what has already been a busy schedule on the field for the Five Stripes. Atlanta’s 1-0 win over Orlando City on Sunday marked the team’s third game in eight days, and the team will play seven matches over the course of the month.
“Of course players are tired, but that's normal after a game,” De Boer told media at the team’s training facility on Monday. “It [would] be strange if they're not tired. But when the results are good, normally you feel less tired and you can deal with it. So I think we are ready for Vancouver."
All of this means that Atlanta has no choice but to rotate the team over the coming games, with Parkhurst and Nagbe being the first among the squad to receive a break. Having not rotated the team as much as many expected early in the season, De Boer hinted that some players may see more opportunities over the busy period.
“It's also a chance for other players to show themselves,” said De Boer. “I will do some rotation, but I'm not going to do like some other teams maybe that they do eight or nine or something like that. We are in good [form] and we want to keep that.”
De Boer has surely noticed that some managers around MLS have opted to heavily rotate their teams to varying results. Atlanta saw it themselves when they defeated a Toronto FC team at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last week that made seven changes from its previous match. This weekend, the New York Red Bulls won on the road at Dallas despite Chris Armas making ten changes to his lineup.
De Boer clearly sees such heavy rotation as a risky proposition. He added that it does the reserve players in his side little good to come in when they haven’t played much together so far during his tenure.
“You can say, ‘Okay, do eight, nine rotations.’ Then say, ‘Okay, we give the other guys an opportunity,’ but I think that’s not an opportunity,” De Boer explained. “Normally it’s a chance when you have two or three rotations, and still the majority of the team is still there… But when you do 11 or nine or 10 players, for me it’s not an opportunity for them, because they never play together, so you cannot expect that suddenly they play as a team.”