August 27, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United players Ezequiel Barco (left) and Pity Martinez celebrate beating Minnesota United 2-1 to win the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday, August 27, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Barco, Martinez could lead Atlanta United to more success

Though the same sample size was a mere seven MLS games and 16 games overall last season, if Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco can start together for Atlanta United the team could challenge its franchise-high mark of 69 points set in 2018.

In a sign of the importance of productive Designated Players in MLS, when Barco and Martinez started, Atlanta United went 6-0-1 last season in MLS games and 12-3-1 overall. The losses came in road games in the Champions League openers at Herediano and Monterrey, and the season-ending playoff loss against Toronto. The draw came against Cincinnati in the second league game in March. The team won its next 11 games, including the U.S. Open Cup final, when the two Argentines were in the 11.

“I think last year we had a really good end to the season to make it to the conference final,” Martinez said though an interpreter. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take that next step to the final. The goals for this year are the same. I think Atlanta is up for getting that far again. That’s our goal.”

The duo was only able to start eight of the team’s 34 league games in the regular season because Barco missed time because of national team participation and then separate injuries. He finished the season with 11 starts as part of 15 appearances in league games. He finished with four goals and three assists in league games and four goals and six assists in all competitions.

“It’s a new year I’m looking forward to turning that around and playing a lot,” Barco said via an interpreter.

Martinez started 26 as part of 32 appearances in league games. He finished with five goals and nine assists in league games and seven goals and 11 assists overall.

“I’m at the coaches will to play and do whatever I can to help,” Martinez said.

An interesting aspect of their production is that they combined for two goals and 10 assists when they started together in all competitions. As a team, though, in league games Atlanta United scored 13 goals while allowing just two in an indicator of the team’s ability to better control possession when the two are on the field. Overall, the team scored 29 while allowing 13. 

Manager Frank De Boer wouldn’t commit on Monday to any starting lineup when asked if he’s figured out a way to get Martinez, Barco, Josef Martinez — the third DP and leading goal-scorer — and Hector Villalba, a speedy threat on the wings, in the same starting lineup.

“They put themselves in,” de Boer said. “I always put a team in that I think is the best team to win against the next opponent. If it’s with those four, I will play with those four. It’s not up to me.” 

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