Atlanta United’s Pity Martinez took a “major step” forward during Atlanta United’s 3-0 win over the L.A. Galaxy on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, according to manager Frank de Boer.
Though Martinez neither scored nor provided an assist, one of his passes was turned into an own goal, he created three chances and was a consistent threat for 90 minutes in what may have been his best game this season.
“The concentration and also the quality is rising right now and you see when he makes his action, you see more power behind it and I think also more confidence, the confidence will also grow,” de Boer said. “You see how easily he can keep up 90 minutes concentrated and also chasing the ball in the 90th minute to defenders.
“This is what everybody was waiting for and I think still he can do better but I think I am already very happy with his performance today and I think this is a major step that he made again forward. It’s good for him, especially, but also for us as Atlanta United. I’m very happy for him that he is progressing like this and the most important thing is still to come so hopefully he can have a great tribute for that.”
The performance came a game after de Boer pulled Martinez and replaced him with Ezequiel Barco when the team was losing 4-2 to LAFC last week. De Boer said the substitution had more to do with getting Barco minutes in his first game in several weeks, but Martinez’s reaction to being subbed, and the criticisms from team supporters and soccer pundits, encapsulated the rocky relationship between the player and manager.
De Boer has twice criticized Martinez’s decision-making or effort. Martinez has criticized de Boer’s tactics. But each has also been positive about the other. De Boer has said he has every confidence in Martinez and offered many reasons to explain why Martinez has struggled this season. Martinez has said he will do his best to fulfill what de Boer asks.
Martinez may have been helped by the return of Barco to the starting lineup. It was just the fourth league game this season in which all three of Atlanta United’s Designated Players have started.
Jeff Larentowicz explained that Barco gave Pity Martinez someone to play off in the 3-5-2 formation. Larentowicz said in the previous 5-4-1 formation, when Pity Martinez received the ball and looked up, there was typically only Josef Martinez. With Barco drifting into the midfield or up with Josef Martinez, when Pity Martinez received the ball he suddenly had options and space.
The formation also helps because wingbacks Julian Gressel and Justin Meram are disciplined at maintaining their width. That forced the defense to expand to cover the space, which left more space in the middle of the pitch for Martinez and Barco to exploit. They each hit the post with shots. Martinez created three chances and Barco one. Barco terrorized Galaxy defenders, turning several around during his mazey runs.
“They have special qualities in them,” de Boer said. “It shows. “The combination of Barco and Pity and Josef up front, that’s very nice, I think for every man and woman who loves football. That’s always very nice to see and to watch them. I was also enjoying them. Again, we also sometimes don’t have the ball and they did a great job today. This is what I expect from everybody and today they showed it so hopefully we can enjoy more in the future.”
With Barco and Pity Martinez attacking the spaces between the midfielders and the centerbacks and forcing them to make decisions, Josef Martinez had a bit more room to attack. He finished with six shots, tied for his third-most this season.
“It’s not the first time that I’ve played with Pity and Barco,” he said. “The truth is I’m happy with whoever gives me the ball. If you play and give me the ball then I’ll be happy with you. I think they are two very important players for us. Two players who you don’t have to talk about because we know the quality that they have. Pity is finding his form and mentality on the field and that’s what he wants and we’re very happy with what he does. And with Barco’s return, the same thing. After being out a long time, it’s important that they are back and we have to enjoy them on the field because they make a difference.”
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