The path to repeating as champions in any sport is almost always paved with obstacles. Atlanta United appears to be in the midst of trying to overcome an internal one heading into Sunday’s contest versus the Seattle Sounders, as midfielder Pity Martinez and coach Frank de Boer have exchanged pointed comments through the media in recent days.
Martinez was a MLS-record $17 million signing from Argentina’s River Plate in January, signed by Atlanta United (9-3-7) as the playmaker to replace Miguel Almiron following his departure to Newcastle United in the Premier League. The transition from one of South America’s most storied clubs to Major League Soccer has not been a smooth one for the 26-year-old, who has three goals and five assists in 22 matches across all competitions.
De Boer, who succeeded Tata Martino as coach after the latter took over the Mexico national team following the Five Stripes’ MLS Cup title, has also had his share of transitional issues. The Dutch gaffer has implemented a different style than Martino, with more possession-based movements that at times has prevented star striker Josef Martinez from showing the form that led to his MLS single-season record of 31 goals in 2018.
Pity Martinez raised some eyebrows during the week when he was quoted telling Fox Sports Radio in Argentina he does not always agree with de Boer on tactics. The coach has pulled him twice in recent matches, though de Boer has been equal parts complimentary and critical in his assessments of the Argentine with the media. On Friday, Martinez addressed the local media for the first time since May to clear the air.
“It bothers me because I think it’s something that I think he should have said to me behind closed doors before he said it to the media,” the midfielder said, adding, “we have a good relationship. He’s the coach, and as the coach, everyone has to get to understand his style of play and what he wants.”
Currently, Martinez should be in de Boer’s good graces after Atlanta’s 2-0 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal win over Saint Louis FC on Wednesday night in which he scored the opening goal in the 52nd minute.
“I can be very satisfied with the performance tonight,” de Boer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after playing mainly a first-choice XI that could result in squad rotations for this match. “We had a plan. We executed. We stayed concentrated.”
Pity Martinez’s goal was set up by Emerson Hyndman, who was making his Five Stripes debut after being signed on loan from Premier League side Bournemouth. The 23-year-old Hyndman had four shots – one of them on target – and created a pair of scoring chances in an attacking midfield role.
Seattle (9-5-5) is seeking back-to-back wins for the first time since mid-May following a 2-1 victory at Columbus on July 6. Nicolas Lodeiro bagged the match winner deep in stoppage time after pulling the Sounders even from the penalty spot on 56 minutes.
“It’s really important that after New York we regrouped and were able to get a result in Columbus,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei told the club’s official website. “We’ve been decent at home, and we want to continue that. But that has to be a basis and you have to be able to find something on top of it on the road too.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer will have a full squad to choose from with striker Jordan Morris and midfielder Cristian Roldan back after representing the U.S. at the Gold Cup. Seattle is playing just its second league home match since May 15 and looking to remain unbeaten (7-2-0) at CenturyLink Field.
The teams have split the points in their previous two meetings and played to a 1-all draw in Atlanta last year as Lodeiro scored on a penalty right before halftime and Josef Martinez equalized three minutes after the restart.
(Emerson Hyndman photo courtesy Atlanta United FC official Twitter account)