Siem de Jong smiled when he thought of facing Frank de Boer’s Atlanta United FC next month. When they were at AFC Ajax together, they won six trophies – including four consecutive league titles – between 2010 and 2014.
Now, they’re weeks away from facing one another for the first time, in a new competition that was unveiled only five days ago.
“It’ll be fun,” de Jong said of playing against his former coach in the MLS is Back Tournament next month in Orlando. “I never actually played against him, so it’ll be different, of course. I played under him for four years, so I had a really good time with him as coach at Ajax.”
Photo from @AFCAjax, Twitter
De Jong was de Boer’s captain at Ajax for three seasons, as the club won one league title after another. Eventually, the midfielder left the club for Newcastle in the English Premier League, and the coach moved to England soon after to coach Crystal Palace FC.
They never faced each other.
Now in MLS, it was de Boer who came stateside before de Jong, who’s only had four full training sessions with the Orange and Blue since he signed in March.
But de Boer’s Atlanta, the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew SC – in no set order yet – will be the first teams against which de Jong plays in MLS when league play resumes in three weeks in a World Cup-style competition.
While his teammates face two clubs they already played in their first two matches of 2020, the Dutch midfielder said he’s excited to compete against the teams for the first time. In the past, all he could do is watch his teammates across an ocean.
“I’ve seen most of the two games, and in both games, parts of the game were pretty good and we can build on that,” de Jong said. “We had some phases in the game that were difficult, but I think we showed against both teams that we can compete and we need to build on that and take note from those moments.”
FC Cincinnati’s approach to the MLS is Back Tournament is as much about building relationships as it is an attempt to win the tournament. De Jong isn’t the only person new to the club, of course.
Head coach Jaap Stam and assistant Said Bakkati were both hired since league play suspended and await their first match with FC Cincinnati, as well.
Ironically, depending on the team’s final group stage schedule, their debut could come in what would be club’s biggest match so far in 2020: a #HellisReal Derby, group-stage clash against Columbus Crew SC.
“Most rivalries are good because of the fans and because of a good atmosphere in the stadium or a hostile atmosphere at the away stadium,” de Jong said. “Those things are nice to look out for. That will be a big part missing in these moments, but we have to deal with that. For fans, it’s still a really important game, and for us, as well.”