All eyes have been on Pity Martínez since his blockbuster move to Atlanta United but the MLS champs are finding the start of the next chapter a little testing – Chris Fuhrmeister assesses what the Five Stripes have seen of their star signing so far…
Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez made his Mercedes-Benz Stadium debut last Sunday evening, taking part in the fifth game of his Atlanta United career. Since his blockbuster move from River Plate to Major League Soccer, the 2018 South American Footballer of the Year has found a more difficult transition than most expected, and Atlanta has struggled to find results.
On Sunday, the Five Stripes conceded an 85th-minute equalizer and slipped to a disappointing 1-1 draw against FC Cincinnati, the MLS expansion franchise that was throttled, 4-1, at Seattle last week in its inaugural game.
Though he is a talented player, expecting Martínez to step in and immediately fill the void left by Miguel Almirón, who is now starring for Newcastle United in the English Premier League, was always unfair. River Plate competed in the Club World Cup in December, and Atlanta United’s Concacaf Champions League campaign began in late February. In addition to the challenge of bedding in with a new team in a new country, El Pity has been asked to contribute without a full offseason to work up to full fitness. Atlanta has a new manager in Frank de Boer, and implementing his 3-4-3 system has required tactical work from the beginning of camp. A new identity and a congested schedule of fixtures to open the season has left everyone in red and black without the verve and confidence that was typically on display in the Five Stripes’ first two seasons.
As if these obstacles weren’t enough, Martínez appeared to be bothered by the artificial surface at Atlanta’s colossal home stadium Sunday. The playmaker scuffed attempted shots and passes on multiple occasions, and he looked unsure of his footing at times. This, too, will take time for adjustment. Martínez did put one shot on target and was credited with two chances created, but when he was subbed off in the 74th minute, the loud cheers from an announced crowd of 70,382 were more in support of the entering homegrown talent Andrew Carleton, and less an ovation for Atlanta’s new number 10.
After Cincinnati equalized — with its only shot on goal, which canceled out Josef Martínez’s fifth-minute strike — the home fans booed at full time.
However, there were lifted spirits on Wednesday. Rebounding from a 3-0 loss at Monterrey in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals, Atlanta defeated los Rayados 1-0 in the return leg. It was not enough to secure advancement to the semifinals, but the Five Stripes put in their best performance of the season. El Pity still did not meet his high standard, but there were signs of improvement, and he made much better use of his talented left foot with threatening shots and crosses. A first-half strike from 30 yards was hit with audacity and forced Monterrey’s Marcelo Barovero to make a fine leaping save.
Pity Martínez stayed away from media following both matches this week. Ahead of the contest against Cincinnati, he told local reporters they “haven’t seen my potential yet.” With the defending MLS Cup champions off to a slow start in 2019, supporters in Atlanta are eager to see that potential come on display.
Chris Fuhrmeister is the Atlanta United beat reporter for Pro Soccer USA. His work also has appeared in the Guardian among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ccfuhr.