Atlanta United midfielder Pity Martinez (right), who scored the first goal of the game, gives forward Josef Martinez (left) a hug after his goal while celebrating their 2-0 victory over D.C. United in a soccer match on Sunday, July 21, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: compton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: compton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

After struggles, Pity Martinez steps up with dramatic game-winner

Called out by his manager twice in the past month. Benched in the past two games.

Pity Martinez downplayed his game-winner in Sunday’s 2-0 victory over D.C. United. However, his fist-pumping reaction and the embrace of his Atlanta United teammates indicated that maybe his header in the 89th minute meant a bit more than he let on.

“For me, not much, but a lot for the team,” he said through a translator. “This is a group, and we all win and want to move forward and be strong here at home, so, it was a group win.”

It was Pity Martinez’s third goal this season. He added to his results with an assist on Josef Martinez’s goal in the second minute of stoppage time. Not bad for 25 minutes of work against a determined, bunkered opponent.

More importantly, it may be a sign that the six-month period that manager Frank de Boer said it takes to adjust to a new country, league, team, teammates and manager may be near an end.

De Boer said he told Martinez to go in and try to stay around the penalty box, interacting with Josef Martinez.

That’s what happened on the goal. Julian Gressel put Darlington Nagbe through D.C. United’s defense. Nagbe’s cross sailed over D.C. United’s goalkeeper Bill Hamid. Pity Martinez charged into the box, heading in the cross and landing in the net with the ball.

“He can be just as big as Miggy (Miguel Almiron) was, and be a big star, so he is just going to have to keep working, working within the team, getting adjusted to things, and then, I am sure everybody will see what he can really do,” Gressel said.

Martinez has struggled with Atlanta United since leaving River Plate in his native Argentina for the largest transfer fee in MLS history. His decision-making was questioned by de Boer after a win against Montreal. His effort questioned again by his manager after a draw with Red Bulls.

Martinez, who rarely speaks to the media, responded with critical comments about de Boer to a radio station in Argentina. Still, he was in the starting lineup in the next game at Seattle.

But when a lack of fullbacks forced de Boer to change the formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 two games ago, he also decided to put Martinez on the bench. 

Martinez came off the bench against Houston but that result had already been decided.

“I always want to play,” Martinez said. “I want to play every game. I train and go to the club every day to get better and play every game. It’s been my turn to be on the bench. It’s a coach’s decision. I can just give my best every time I’m called on to enter and try to earn my spot back.”

The result was still very much in doubt when Martinez came on for a fatigued Brandon Vazquez in the 65th minute on Sunday against D.C. United.

De Boer said that more performances like Martinez’s on Sunday is going to make him have to make hard choices.

“I always have the confidence in him,” de Boer said. “I only look for the best team in that moment. I know he expects much more of himself. The only reaction he can give me is this. I only choose for the team, and the team that has the highest possibility to win. Maybe in the next game, it’s with him, but today, he was fantastic. That gives him a lot of confidence, but also for his teammates, for the club and for me, also.”

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