Atlanta United's Pity Martinez reacts after making a goal against Motagua FC during the first half of soccer in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Kennesaw, Ga. (John Amis, Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Photo: John Amis/AJC
Photo: John Amis/AJC

After two games: ‘This is the version of Pity that you want to see’

Pity Martinez issued an encouraging declaration to Atlanta United fans following two goals and an assist in a Champions League victory Tuesday.

“I think this is the version of Pity that you want to see,” Martinez said after a 3-0 victory over Motagua at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State. “A Pity who is feeling confident and comfortable. This is the version that all of you guys wanted to see.”

The Atlanta United forward dominated against Honduras’ Motagua in the second leg of the Champions League series. He scored in the 40th minute off a crafty back-heeled pass by forward Josef Martinez and again in the 83rd minute after finding a loose ball in the box. In between, Martinez repaid the favor to Josef Martinez, finding him with a through ball in the 60th minute, leading to another goal.

Atlanta United advanced in the tournament with a 4-1 aggregate score. In the next round, it will face the winner of the series between Mexico’s Club America and Guatemala’s Comunicaciones, whose second leg will be played Wednesday. The first leg of the quarterfinal series will be scheduled between March 10-12. The second leg, which will be played back at Kennesaw State, will be scheduled between March 17-19. Dates for the games will be announced Friday. 

The match continued a strong start for Martinez, who already has two goals and two assists in the team’s first two matches. His early performance showed the extensive work put in during the preseason, which included his re-commitment to be a leader, after an up-and-down first MLS season. It has impressed Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer. 

“I think he showed some high-quality play last season, but maybe was a little bit inconsistent,” de Boer said. “He knows that, everybody knows that. When he came in this preseason, he was really determined to show himself. He wants to be a leader for the team and he has the quality to do that. Right now, I’m really pleased with how he’s involved with everything. He’s really fun to watch inside and outside the pitch.”

Martinez’s early success bodes well for both Atlanta United’s offense and his own development. Last season, he struggled as he had only five goals and nine assists in 32 appearances. It took the 26-year-old until June 1 to get his second assist and until June 26 to get his second goal. He’s reached those marks after two games.

For Martinez, having time to settle into the club allowed for his growth mentally, something that he now feels is stronger than ever. 

“I don’t know if it was pressure. Last year wasn’t my best year,” Martinez said. “I always work to give my best. My head wasn’t where it needed to be last year. I feel much better, with more confidence.”

While Martinez continues his impressive star, he remains focused on developing chemistry with the other forwards. Alongside Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco, Atlanta United’s forwards have formed a fearsome trio, combining for 15 of the team’s 17 shots against Motagua on Tuesday. 

Specifically, Martinez pointed to working with Josef Martinez, who also already has two goals and two assists in the two early matches. Despite the success of both forwards, the duo thinks of their relationship as a work in progress. 

“Yes, (Josef Martinez and I) are working on it,” Martinez said. “Last year I wasn’t as sharp with him, but little by little you work on it, keep gaining confidence and getting to know each other. We’re happy that he keeps scoring. He’s our star and he has to stay on that path.”

Martinez not only improved his attacking skills during the offseason, but also refocused on his defensive efforts. While officially recording only one tackle in the second leg against Motagua, he was a nuisance in the midfield, closing hard on opposing players and forcing errant passes. The hustle has been noticed by other Atlanta United players, who feel that the effort he exerted on defense is nearly as important as his offensive output.

“His attitude, his willingness to defend, his willingness to close guys down goes a long way,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “That goes a long way not only for himself because it helps him get into the game, but it also goes a long way for the other guys around him on the field. We know his ability on the ball attacking-wise, but when he’s doing (the other things), that says something.”

Martinez’s start bodes well for Atlanta United as the MLS season begins Saturday in Nashville. 

“Individually, we have a lot of talent of this team and if we can all do that together, then the team results will come,” Martinez said. “I’m feeling very comfortable and in a good place right now.”

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