Many 1’s and 0’s have come tumbling out on this site trying to better understand why Atlanta United has struggled under Frank de Boer. (For a more in-depth breakdown than De’s Nuggets could ever provide on this subject, read this, this, this, or this.) But wherever you fall on the #DeBoerOut to “he’ll figure it out” scale, everyone can agree that some of the individual performances have been middling to poor. Pretty much all the players have struggled at times, apart from your mild-mannered neighborhood central defending superhero, Miles Robinson.
It’s natural that a good deal of criticism has been leveled at Pity Martinez. The Five Stripes reportedly paid as much as $17 million for the former River Plate standout, and he replaced the beloved—and unlike Pity, always smiling—Miguel Almiron. Pity has 0 goals and 1 assist in 5 matches this season. That puts his goals and assists per 90 at…well, a very low number approaching zero, folks.
In his post-match press conference following the 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union, De Boer spoke a bit about how his players are not moving or passing quickly enough to find the “free man” often enough to crack opposing defenses. What interested me, however, was how he pulled no punches when asked about Pity:
"We have to have patience with him."— FOX Sports South (@FOXSportsSouth) March 18, 2019
-- Frank de Boer discusses how Pity Martinez is adjusting to playing with @ATLUTD. pic.twitter.com/CyxLdgfCth
“[Pity] has to get use to this, and he knows this wasn’t his best game, everybody can see that,” said De Boer. “He can play much better, and he has to play much better.”
Pity has been especially poor at retaining possession. According to WhoScored.com, which only includes stats for Atlanta’s three MLS matches, Pity had a pass success rate of 65.7%, by far the lowest on the team. He’s also been dispossessed 2.7 times per match, just beating out Villalba at 2.5 and Remedi at 2.3. This might be expected of any player whose talent lies in taking the risks necessary to create scoring chances, but anyone who’s watched Pity this season knows something’s been amiss.
In Pity’s defense, he’s also had to deal with being been hacked down relentlessly by opponents, with 1.3 fouls committed against him per MLS match. (And he was fouled a ridiculous ten times against Monterrey.) Yet he’s still far from the form he showed in Buenos Aires.
De Boer laid out several reasons why Pity has struggled to adjust:
He has to adapt to everything like the new culture, new circumstances, the turf. It’s also something he never played almost in Argentina, they always play on grass. All those aspects make it quite difficult to start normally.
Culture and circumstances? Sure. Turf? Come on now.
More likely, he’s struggled to integrate and become comfortable in De Boer’s system. It’s no surprise to me that his best performance came in the 1-0 win against Monterrey, when he started on the right of a front 3 with Josef central and Barco on the left. In only 65 minutes, he had a team-high 4 shots, with one on goal, a key pass, and three successful dribbles.
I’m not the first to say he might be best when playing on the right in an inverted role, where he can cut in and place delicate balls or unleash thunder strikes with his left foot. It also helped to have Julian Gressel, rather than Brek Shea, playing behind Pity to allow him to push further up field.
It hasn’t all been doom and gloom for Pity. He’s tied with Tito Villalba with the most dribbles per match at 3, and is with 1.7 key passes per match is right behind Gressel. Pity also reminded us of his quality when he made the kind of run behind the lines FdB has been urging his players to make and nearly assisted Josef with a perfect pass across the box:
OFF THE WOODWORK!@JosefMartinez17 on the prowl https://t.co/unydhYa2RX— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) March 17, 2019
“We know he is a fantastic quality player,” De Boer said Sunday. “We have to have patience with him.”
Fair enough. After all, we’ll have to wait until March 30 against the Columbus Crew to see if we’ll get the Pity we all expected to see.