Despite a disappointing showing at the MLS is Back Tournament that ultimately culminated with the club and head coach Frank de Boer mutually deciding to part ways, Atlanta United haven't lowered their sky-high expectations for 2020.
Atlanta won their first two games of the season, leaving them with six points after five matches, above the playoff line but (hopefully) with much more to play for. The league has not yet announced plans for the rest of the season, though the expectation is there will be more games played.
Don't count Atlanta United out.
"I want to be clear: This isn’t writing this season off by any means," club president Darren Eales told reporters on a video conference call Thursday. "This decision gives us the best chance for this season. We have a great squad of players and we fully expect to make the playoffs and compete for trophies this season.”
While the club are without superstar striker Josef Martinez, who tore his ACL in the club's season opener, they have plenty of attacking talent to lean on. Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco haven't quite hit their lofty expectations, though each have showed flashes of why they're the two most expensive incoming-transfers in MLS history. Atlanta also signed Mexico international Jurgen Damm this month, who is awaiting his debut.
Eales also alluded to the possibility of more movement, saying "with a little bit of ingenuity" they'll be able to maneuver under the constraints of a salary cap. The club have been linked with Mexican-American midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez from Liga MX giants CF Monterrey as well as former MLSer Erick "Cubo" Torres.
Interim head coach Stephen Glass won't be short of options.
“It’s important we get back to being an attack-minded team," Glass said. "When you switch on Atlanta United on the television, you expect to see attacking football. Shots, crosses and real quality on the field. That’s what the expectation is.”
Glass has been the head coach of Atlanta United 2 since 2019 after originally joining the club as an academy coach in 2018. He enjoyed a long playing career with stops at Newcastle United, Aberdeen and others. He made one appearance for the Scotland national team.
His first task with the first team is getting the most out of Barco, Martinez and the rest of the attack. The interim boss didn't want to reveal too much information in public, but is bullish on unlocking the top performances from his best players.
"The biggest thing is we're going to put the players in the best positions we can to make them as successful as possible," Glass said. "There had been players playing in spots that maybe don't suit them, or in areas that don't suit them.”
With Glass on the bench, Eales feels no rush in finding a permanent replacement.
“Stephen knows Atlanta United and our style and philosophy," Eales said. "To have that safe pair of hands there on an interim basis as we carry out our search for the permanent head coach is a blessing for us. It means we don’t have to rush our search and just take whoever is available this minute. "We’ve got to take our time, make sure we get the right person in to lead the club going forward. That’s what we’ll look to do.”
Eales doesn't expect to have much trouble finding interested candidates.
“We’re a massive club in North America. … I think it’s an attractive job," Eales said. "MLS is growing from year to year. Ironically, this pandemic hitting world football, I think MLS will come out stronger. I’m really excited on the macro level."