We’re now 19 matches into a 34-match MLS regular season, and more than halfway through the schedule, several things still haven’t happened in 2019. Some of these non-events are more surprising than others. For example…
Neither Michael Parkhurst nor Jeff Larentowicz have scored a goal. (Not surprising.) Josef Martinez hasn’t scored a hat trick. (Mildly surprising.) The Fives Stripes haven’t earned a single point when trailing at halftime, nor have they won a game after the other team scores first. (Surprising.)
But one thing that hasn’t happened yet truly shocked me: Pity Martinez, the priciest transfer in league history, still hasn’t started and played 90 minutes in consecutive regular season matches. In fact, he’s only played the full 90 minutes on four occasions: on June 17 against Philly, May 8 against Toronto, May 19 against the Red Bulls, and June 26, against Toronto again.
He’s played a total of 1,135 minutes, averaging a little over 60 minutes per appearance. This tells me one thing: that Pity hasn’t been playing up to his potential, in large part because he’s never reached true match fitness, even though we’re a week or so into July.
Frank de Boer clearly agrees, at least based on what he said after the disappointing 3-3 draw against the Red Bulls on Saturday. In the manager’s harshest words yet about Pity, he said at the post-match presser:
“We have to win duels, and in my point of view, [Pity] did not do enough to avoid giving someone an easy long ball. You saw, Brandon [Vazquez] came in and it was a different story. I want not 10, or 9, or 8 men who work very hard — everybody has to work hard, especially in these kinds of games. These are very difficult games. I had the feeling that we have to win those duels, and that is also why I put Jeff Larentowicz in. After we put Jeff in, we get chance after chance.” (emphasis mine)
This comes on the heels of criticism De Boer delivered about Pity after taking him out in the 68th minute of last week’s 2-1 win against Montreal:
“In the beginning, there was nothing wrong. I think he played quite well. He was setting up the first goal, cutting inside, playing it to Justin [Meram], moves through to make the space for Justin to come inside, so I have no problem with that. But in the second half, especially around the 60th to 65th minute, he was making too many mistakes and then it’s a danger to the team in that moment.”
So around the 60th minute, Pity became a “danger to the team?” FdB seems to think Pity is lacking in concentration, fitness, or both. Either way, it’s not good that the manager doesn’t believe Pity is performing to his potential during the final 30 minutes of matches.
Looking back, it’s interesting to see how FdB has previously addressed the issue. Back on March 17, FdB said it was all about Pity adjusting to MLS:
“He has to get use to this, and he knows this wasn’t his best game. He can play much better, and he has to play much better. He has to adapt to everything like the new culture, new circumstances, and new turf. All those aspects make it quite difficult. We know he is a fantastic and quality player. We have to have patience with him.”
Then on April 13 it was recovering from injury, the break for his wedding, and even the turf:
“Pity [Martinez] is still not 100 percent. He came back and got married in Argentina, so he didn’t have the full training. We wanted to keep him healthy for the whole season. It’s a risk when you put him in; especially the intensity. Normally, New England are on top of you from the first second and also the pitch, the turf, is not helping for that kind of injury, so that’s why.”
But around May and early June, De Boer began speaking positively about Pity’s play, if tentatively, even praising his work rate (!) at one point on June 1:
“I think he’s still not there where he can be, but he works very hard. He’s always challenging one-against-one. He won his drills, sometimes. He was creative. He gave a good assist for the first goal, so yeah, I think he’s improving a lot, and so, I’m very happy with his performance. Also, defensively, coming back into his position when the ball is on the other side.”
The high point came in the Toronto match on June 26, one in which Pity played well for 90 minutes, but skied a late penalty kick that would have secured three points for his team. FdB would later call it “one of his best games” despite the PK miss.
Yet the honeymoon was short-lived, as Pity followed up the solid performance with two lethargic ones against Montreal and New York.
If I know anything about top-tier managers — and I admittedly only know much beyond what I’ve seen as a fan — someone like FdB wouldn’t criticize his player publicly unless he thinks he hasn’t gotten through to him privately.
We’ll see if De Boer’s latest harsh nuggets of truth will light a fire under Pity, or backfire and cause a permanent rift between player and manager.