Atlanta United’s Pity Martinez training well, but ...

Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said Tuesday that Pity Martinez is training well, but wouldn’t give any more clues whether the enigmatic playmaker would make his first appearance in two games with a start in Thursday’s playoff contest against Philadelphia.

“You know what I always say,” de Boer said Tuesday. “I'm looking toward this game with the team that, for me, has the most chance to win. That can be without (Ezequiel) Barco or that can be without Pity or both together, but we have to wait for Thursday.”

After starting the previous 11 games, Martinez was benched by de Boer for the season finale against New England. Martinez was benched again for the playoff game against the Revolution two weeks later. Martinez has five goals and nine assists in 32 league appearances.

De Boer said after the playoff game that he likes the balance that a midfield composed of Jeff Larentowicz, Darlington Nagbe and Emerson Hyndman brings. Hyndman is a central midfielder, which is one position that Martinez could play in a 3-5-2 formation. The other two possibilities are striker. Martinez won’t replace Josef Martinez, the league MVP and again the team’s leading scorer. De Boer said after the playoff game that Barco is playing too well to not start.

So, Martinez sits.

“Well it’s a nice guy to have available, right? South American player of the year, I think that’s a positive,” Jeff Larentowicz said. “His confidence is fine. His ability to change a game is there. His ability to do the things that he’s always done is still there. It’s frustrating. I’ve been in that position this year not too long ago. You just have to be ready. You talk about experience, and that’s a guy with a ton of experience. To step on the field, I think he has the ability to unlock a game. If he plays, then I think that’s a huge positive for us.”

De Boer said earlier this season, after subbing Barco on for Pity Martinez during what turned into a 4-3 loss at LAFC, that he thinks the two play the same position in the 3-5-2 formation. De Boer then started the two a few times. In all, the two have started 14 games together this season. The team went 11-2-1, including 6-0-1 in MLS, 3-0 in U.S. Open Cup and 1-2-1 in Champions League. Atlanta United outscored opponents 26-11 in those games. Barco started 11 league games this season.

“I have a good understanding with Pity,” Barco said. “We’ve played well together this season when we are on the field at the same time. I think we both contribute to the attack and we also work together to try to help defensively as well. I think we have a good understanding and are trying to help the attack and get the ball to Josef.”

Barco said he hasn’t spoken to Martinez about his lack of playing time. Barco would know. He was relegated from starter to reserve by previous manager Gerardo Martino during last year’s playoff, which ended with Atlanta United winning the MLS Cup.

De Boer said the only signal that Martinez can give him that he’s ready is to show it during training, which he said he has been doing.

“So if you are in a bad mood in two weeks, you don't help yourself,” de Boer said. “And then I'm probably doubting you. Do I put you in or do I put somebody in who in two weeks does everything? So that's always the case. And I know it's difficult sometimes for players, but we're not going to do it with 11, we're not going to do it with 12 or 13. No, we'll do it with the whole roster.

“So you expect other players to give their best at training. When you're playing, you have to do the same. Yourself, to the other players, to be respectful to them. And that's not only for Pity. I think he trained quite well last week, and not only him but the other players. So I think we can be positive and I have confidence to put everybody in right now.”