Atlanta United’s Pity Martinez: ‘You haven’t seen my potential yet’

Atlanta United ‘s Pity Martinez dribbles during Wednesday’s Champions League game at Monterrey.

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta United ‘s Pity Martinez dribbles during Wednesday’s Champions League game at Monterrey.

Pity Martinez says you haven’t seen the best of him. Not yet.

The Atlanta United midfielder is getting used to his new teammates, new manager, new formation, new tactics and, though he says it’s not a complaint, a different standard of officiating.

“You haven’t seen my potential yet,” Martinez said Friday.

Martinez, acquired for a reported $15 million from River Plate in his native Argentina, may get another chance to show what he can do in Sunday’s MLS home opener against Cincinnati at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

If not then, Martinez should start on Wednesday against Monterrey in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal series. Rayados, as the team is also called, won the first leg 3-0 in Mexico. They used a tactic that focused on stopping Atlanta United’s offense by fouling Martinez whenever he got the ball, effectively stopping any attacks before they could start. He was chopped down 10 times.

Martinez hasn’t spoken to the media since his introductory press conference on Jan. 25. He said he is enjoying living in Atlanta and that the traffic is similar to what he experienced in Argentina, which he joked was “pretty annoying.”

Asked about the officiating in games, Martinez first said he didn’t want to comment because he is new to MLS. Later, asked if he had ever been fouled as often as 10 times in a game, Martinez spoke at length about the officiating.

“That was a really tough game in Monterrey,” he said. “I got upset with the referee because I didn’t think he was calling all the fouls against them. And he was awarding fouls to the other team that I didn’t think was fair.

“The league in Argentina is very physical with a lot of challenges. I was a little surprised that they didn’t call everything. It’s not a complaint. Just something I will have to get used to. We were trying to play football, but it seemed that every chance Monterrey was breaking things up.”

The game against Monterrey was a good example of Martinez’s play through four games. When he was allowed to play by the officials, there were a few moments of individual brilliance and one excellent free kick. Overall, though, there wasn’t much in a result. He has yet to score and has just one assist.

“He’s a great player,” Atlanta United’s Mikey Ambrose said. “Stuff he does during practice and in spurts during games, he’s got a lot of talent. Like any new player, it takes a little bit of time to adapt to a new team and league.”

Martinez said that he is still developing his fitness. He joined the team late in the preseason after a short offseason in Argentina. He said preseason work in Argentina typically focuses more on improving fitness. Atlanta United’s preseason training involved more work with the ball. But he said he is getting close to feeling as well as he wants.

Martinez said his chemistry with teammates such as Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco is still developing.

“We are working hard to get up to the level that the coaching staff and players want to be at, where last year we had so much success” he said. “Main thing is we have to all work hard and get to the level the coach wants us to be.”

While Martinez may not be shining like he wants on the field, he has played well enough to receive a call-up to the Argentina national team on Thursday.

He also is a beacon for River Plate supporters. A group, wearing the iconic white jersey with red sash, stood outside the stadium in Costa Rica just to see him get on and off the bus during the opening series of the Champions League. Something similar happened in Mexico.

“The affection of River Plate fans extends all over the Americas and maybe all over the world,” he said. “It’s really beautiful. I was surprised in both cases in Costa Rica and Mexico. It’s nice that the fans respect me that much. I will try to do the same to win the affection of fans in Atlanta.”