That’s when his team will meet the New York Red Bulls, who have a clear and defined playing style. It’s proven effective against the Five Stripes, too, with RBNY holding a 5-1-2 series edge since the defending U.S. Open Cup champions entered MLS.
“It’s always an intense game,” De Boer said. “They don’t give you any time normally when you have the ball, you always have to understand you’re always getting into a challenge, so we have to be prepared for that.
“If we start sloppy we will be punished against these kinds of teams and that’s typical Red Bull and we have to be aware of that, a lot of balls behind our last line and if we head it away they are really eager to get that second ball. If we win it, then we have a lot of possibilities to really punish them.”
All five goals from group-stage play have come in the second half, and De Boer recognizes that Chris Armas’ group prefers a direct, fast style that provides little breathing room. They’ll need to be tuned in from the first whistle and look to capitalize on turnovers, De Boer said.
Atlanta’s head coach focused on last year’s Eastern Conference meeting at Red Bull Arena, when Tim Parker was shown a straight red card for pulling down Josef Martinez. RBNY still secured a 1-0 win, showing what happens if chances aren't seized.
“We had a lot of opportunities, especially in transition, and I think we’re going to have the same kind of approach against them this time because they always play the same,” De Boer said. “It’s a very good strength for them and we want to play football on the ground, but we have to understand when we can come out of that pressure then directly it’s one against one. It’s going to be an interesting game, that’s for sure.”
With Martinez recovering from a torn ACL, attention shifts to how Atlanta copes without the Venezuelan striker. De Boer noted that attacking midfielder Matheus Rossetto has looked sharp, making decisive passes in the final third. But the biggest spotlight shines on Pity Martinez, whose first year in MLS had its ups and downs. The 2018 South American Footballer of the Year and Ezequiel Barco are expected to carry the offense.
“When we started team training again, and also the beginning of the season, he was really energetic,” De Boer said of Pity. “He was positive [about coming] to Atlanta, also guiding young guys, putting a lot of energy in his work rate. He did really well and I think you see it also in the quality of how he performs. I’m really happy with his attitude and performance.”
As the tactical pieces come together, climate and game fitness also shape the Group E matchup. Atlanta and RBNY have been preparing for months, and now’s their chance to impress.
“We know what we want tactically, especially physically,” De Boer said. “Can they do it 90 minutes long? That’s going to be the really challenging thing, I think, during this whole tournament, especially the first three games. Also to adapt to the circumstances of weather, the humidity, the heat and everything, so we have to see how it goes."