A few things I noticed from Atlanta United’s two friendlies – a 6-1 win over Tijuana and a 1-0 win over Cal State-Fullerton -- on Wednesday:
Josef Martinez has his scoring boots. The league’s reigning MVP already has seven goals and four assists in two preseason games. Granted, Seattle has just started its training and Tijuana fielded a team composed mostly of reserves, but seven goals are seven goals.
“It’s important for the confidence,” manager Frank de Boer said. “He is looking good.”
As he did last season, Martinez scored with either foot or head. He also added two assists on Wednesday and his work on defense was noticed by de Boer.
“He sacrifices sometimes to also do dirty work and also score goals,” de Boer said.
Martinez said he hasn’t set a goal for the number of goals he hopes to score this season. The next one is the only goal.
Ezequiel Barco looks a different player. Barco, with a new hair color, scored a goal and had an assist on Wednesday in looking like a much different player than he was last season.
The 19-year-old repeatedly attacked the defense with long runs down the field. He harassed Tijuana’s players when they had the ball.
“If he’s not then I’m going to hit him because he’s my roommate,” Josef Martinez said. “He’s got to put in the effort.”
De Boer said that Barco understands that he has an important role on the team this season, while recognizing that he struggled to adapt last season.
“He brings a special quality to the team,” de Boer said. “Fantastic to see how he is working for the team and his quality.”
Miles Robinson also looked sharp. The teams’ first draft pick started in the center of a three-man backline and rarely put a foot wrong on Tuesday. He looked comfortable with the ball at his feet, which hasn’t always been the case, and was unbeaten in aerial duels.
“Miles has been very good so far this preseason,” Michael Parkhurst said. “He always has that physical presence where he can just dominate, speed wise, physicality, in the air.
“For him, it’s being focused, it’s seeing runners and communicating. Those are things he’s doing well to help everyone him. When staff puts trust in you from day 1, it gives you that uplift and self-confidence and he’s playing with it right now.”
De Boer said he likes how Robinson keeps things simple.
“Sometimes surprises me what he’s already capable of right now,” he said. “Young still. Still has to learn a lot. I’m happy with his performance in the first three weeks of preseason.”
No Darlington Nagbe. Midfielder Darlington Nagbe failed to play with the first team for the second consecutive preseason game.
De Boer said Nagbe didn’t start the 7-1 win against Seattle last week because he arrived a day late to training camp in California. De Boer didn’t say why Nagbe arrived a day later.
He played the first half with the reserves on Wednesday because he didn’t feel he was ready for a full match. De Boer said Nagbe may start in the midfield in Sunday’s friendly against LAFC.
Pity Martinez looks good, too. He came on in the second half against Tijuana and his quality was evident with two assists on goals by Josef Martinez.
The second came on a well-taken free kick for a header in the 68th minute.
“He’s adapting very well,” de Boer said.
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