Atlanta United have their eyes set on multiple goals this season, one of which is defending their MLS Cup title. To do so, Frank de Boer will have to rotate smartly.
For Atlanta United, the loss to CS Herediano in the week was embarrassing. While they should never have been so complacent as to presume victory, surely their worst nightmares wouldn’t have seen them not only concede three goals but do so in such a hapless manner.
The 3-1 deficit is not insurmountable. The second leg will be at home, where Atlanta are excellent, and scoring goals is not something that this Five Stripes side struggles with. There is still plenty of reason to hope.
But the loss did illustrate the importance of being match sharp — or more specifically, the damage that can be caused when players are overworked or underprepared. Atlanta were not as sharp as Herediano, in large part because it was the first competitive game of their season.
Sharpness, however, is not an extended attribute. It is difficult to maintain throughout a long and arduous season. Teams, therefore, choose to peak for certain periods. There is a reason the Seattle Sounders are always looking their best when the playoffs roll around.
And for Atlanta, one of the most crucial management elements that Frank de Boer must master is to ensure that his players are at their peak when it matters most. Sadly, he has already failed in one aspect, preparing them during the preseason to be ready for competitive action. But he can still rectify that through intelligent rotation to prolong his players’ best form for when the MLS playoffs come calling.
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"“Everybody expects a lot from Atlanta United. That’s normal when you are champions. But also the CONCACAF Champions League we have to play. You’re going to have so many traveling hours and so many games in front us, so we have to rotate and look very carefully to our players if somebody is overworked. That’s something for us but also for our head of performance, of course, to look very carefully for and ring alarm bells when something is close to that. We’re going to use a lot of amount of players this season.”"
Atlanta have a deep enough squad to rotate through. They do not need to ride Josef Martinez into the ground, for instance. They can shuffle through a slew of wide and attacking midfield options. De Boer has plenty of depth in the defensive positions to lean on. The Atlanta squad is varied and well-assembled. It makes sense for de Boer to use it.
Whether they go far in the CCL or not, the priority of the season should be to peak at the end of it. And for that to happen, rotation is absolutely necessary.