MARIETTA, Ga. — Frank de Boer is a realist, and he knows despite best intentions, soccer’s transfer market doesn’t always allow things to go exactly as planned.
"It's all depending how quickly our roster is developing,” said De Boer in discussing the team’s offseason strategy. “That's important, because last season... Pity [Martinez] came later and [Darlington] Nagbe was not involved in the beginning. So it's important that we have the roster clear when we start."
Fast forward two months to the club’s first day of training and glaring holes in the squad remain.
“Every year I want that,” De Boer said with a chuckle at the first preseason training session of the year Monday. “It’s not always happening, but it’s not only that I want it. The club wants it also. There are some strategic moves you have to do to not pay the highest price. You have to wait sometimes and I know how it goes in this world of soccer. As a coach you want it as fast as possible, but you also know the reality is not like that.”
Nagbe, one of De Boer’s most reliable and crucial players in central midfield, is gone in a trade with Columbus Crew SC without replacement. All of the players who deputized at left back — Justin Meram, Brek Shea, Mikey Ambrose and Florentin Pogba — are also gone.
So it’s no surprise De Boer cited those two positions as the team’s most urgent area of need when speaking to a massive media presence on hand at the team’s training facility Monday.
“He knows exactly what I want,” De Boer said of club vice president Carlos Bocanegra, who is chiefly tasked with assembling the playing staff in Atlanta. “Especially with the loss of Nagbe, we have to have a good replacement for him... Hopefully we’re going to see a midfielder. For me that’s the most important.
“George Bello didn’t play much last season... So, it’s very important we don’t put all our money on George to play all season at left fullback. We have to monitor him also. Hopefully he’s doing well and can play 15-20 games. So, we also need cover there.”
While there’s plenty of work to do to bring players into the fold, Atlanta also must make sure the players they have on the roster are committed and ready to play. Julian Gressel, a player who cut a frustrated figure at the end of last season due to contract talks stagnating, trained individually on Monday instead of with the team. De Boer claimed it was purely a physical issue, since the player arrived later than others to the training facility over the weekend.
“We had to modify him. We try to really modify the players who need it and he is one of them,” De Boer said about Gressel. “He’s just a first team player, and everyone who is on the pitch today is normally on our roster.”
Safe to say, there’s plenty of prep work ahead for Atlanta United on and off the field.