Atlanta United’s Pity Martinez played his best game of the season in Sunday’ 2-1 victory over NYCFC, manager Frank de Boer said.
Martinez said he wasn’t sure if he agreed because he didn’t score, but the evidence was plentiful:
A 30-yard pass in the first half to Ezequiel Barco, dropped right onto his foot at the penalty spot, followed by a 60-yarder sliced across the field to Julian Gressel in the second half. Neither player was able to score, but those are passes that destroy defenses and showed a vision and technique that few players in MLS possess.
» Player ratings: Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 1
A simpler pass he hit did result in a goal when he put Gressel into space in the first half for his cross to Josef Martinez, which was headed in to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead. It was almost a no-look pass and surprised two NYCFC defenders.
His effort to first shoulder a NYCFC defender off the ball in the second half, and then to bamboozle another to earn a penalty kick that was successfully converted by Josef Martinez for a 2-0 lead.
Lastly, his slide tackle late in the game to keep the ball in NYCFC’s end was noted and appreciated by de Boer.
“I think I’m getting better as time goes on, which is the most important,” Martinez said. “Adapting to the league more and more and continuing to learn, keep improving and trying to achieve what the team wants, which is to be as high (in standings) as possible.”
De Boer has said many times that he believes it takes about six months for a player in a new country, in a new league, with a new club, manager and teammates to become comfortable.
Martinez is at six months and has shown his best form in the past few games, particularly with the return of Ezequiel Barco to the lineup and the switch to a 3-5-2 formation.
Barco has given Martinez someone to play off, which teammate Jeff Larentowicz noted after the team beat the L.A. Galaxy, 3-0, last week. Again, Martinez wasn’t sure if he agreed.
“I don’t think it’s changed much,” he said. “He helps not only me but the whole team. This is a team, and he adds to the group. He’s playing well, and we have to congratulate him.”
Martinez did agree with goalkeeper Brad Guzan that the formation switch has helped him find better spaces on the field from which he can pick up his head and find teammates or take shots. Martinez put three of his shots on goal on Sunday.
“Yes, the coach chooses the team and we adapt to what he says but I think this formation feels good for the team,” Martinez said. “The team likes to attack, be protagonists of the match, and you guys have seen that we’ve been doing a good job.”
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