Atlanta United forward Ezequiel Barco (from left), forward Josef Martinez, and midfielder Pity Martinez pose for a portrait at the team training ground on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Marietta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/Curtis Compton
Photo: Curtis Compton/Curtis Compton

Atlanta United’s hope: More goal scorers

Josef Martinez scores a lot of goals for Atlanta United. 

A lot. 

One already this season in Tuesday’s Champions League opener. Twenty-seven in MLS last season. Thirty-one the season before. Nineteen in his first with the club. But a concern is that if Martinez didn’t score last season, the team likely wasn’t going to get all three points. In games in which Martinez appeared but didn’t score, Atlanta United went 5-3-1, and it went 1-3-1 when he didn’t appear.

Only one team in MLS was more dependent on one player to score than Atlanta United was on Martinez last season. Martinez scored 46.5 percent of the team’s 58 goals. Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 30 out of 58, 51.7 percent, with the Galaxy was more. 

“It’s key that you don’t put all the pressure on Josef,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said. “He’s thinking if I’m not scoring, we will never score. We have to have players who can also contribute to win games. (Ezequiel) Barco will be one of those. Pity (Martinez) will also be one of those players.” 

Pity Martinez is in his second season with the club and, through five games in the preseason and one Champions League game, looks more comfortable than last season. He provided the assist on Josef Martinez’s goals in the draw with Motagua. He also put two shots on goal. He scored three goals during the preseason. He scored five in 32 appearances in league games last season. 

Barco, in his third season with the club, is due. Injuries and absences for call-ups to the national team have resulted in him appearing in 41 of a possible 68 league games. He scored two goals in the preseason after scoring four last season. 

“He’s older, mature,” de Boer said. “He has to understand he contributes in the system assists and goals. When he’s healthy, he will.” 

The three players combined well with passes in the preseason. Against Birmingham, Pity Martinez took a pass from Brooks Lennon on the right and dribbled toward the middle. Josef Martinez made sure to stay toward the middle to hold two defenders. Barco stayed wide on the left. Pity Martinez found Barco, who took the pass, beat his man one-on-one and then slotted a shot with his right foot into the lower right corner. 

Though Josef Martinez didn’t touch the ball, his presence helped make it possible for Pity Martinez and Barco to combine to give the team a 1-0 lead. It was a pretty play, smartly executed. 

“I don’t play by myself,” Josef Martinez said. “The last three years I depend on the people around me. If I receive a pass, I try to score. This is a sport for 11 players, not just one. If you want to win, you want a team. If you want goals, you need the assists.” 

De Boer points that out if Barco and Pity Martinez continue to combine like that, it will create space for Josef Martinez. And he usually doesn’t need a whole lot of space. 

That’s why he has been so dangerous the past three seasons. Even when defenses are focused on stopping him, he still scores. 

Again, only the Galaxy had the biggest difference between its leading scorer and second-leading scorer in MLS last season. 

After Josef Martinez was Julian Gressel, with six goals. A difference of 21. The difference between L.A.’s Ibrahimovic and Uriel Antuna was 24 goals. Only one other MLS team had a difference of more than eight goals. 

“Hopefully we win, that’s all that matters,” Josef Martinez said. “I don’t know who may score, but if we win every game 1-0 that’s good. It’s three points.”

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