Atlanta United: Pity Martinez will be back and can make a major impact on MLS in 2020

Pity Martinez - close up - sideline

Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra left little doubt over the question of whether Pity Martinez would be back for the 2020 season. The simple answer to that inquiry: “Yes.” 

And coach Frank De Boer is hopeful the former South American Player of the Year can show next year what he displayed at the tail end of what was a turbulent first season in Major League Soccer. 

“I think if he continues how he played the last two games, he has to understand, and I give him the compliment, that's the Pity I want to see,” De Boer said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. “He’s involved in attacking and defending. If he shows that, there’s no doubt he has a major impact in MLS and for us, of course.”

De Boer said Martinez is one of a handful of players, including Julian Gressel and Ezequiel Barco, who could and perhaps should shoulder the secondary scoring load for star forward Josef Martinez, who has scored 58 regular season goals over the last two seasons. 

But will Gressel, who was one of four players the club exercised options on, be back in 2020? 

Bocanegra was less decisive on that count, with the player recently opening up publicly about being "frustrated" that his desire for an improved deal had yet to be realized.

“He’s been a vital part of our success, an important piece for us. He’s a priority for us,” Bocanegra said. “Given the uncertainty with what’s happening with the CBA, we’re a little bit at a holding pattern I would say. I’ve had conversations with his agent recently. I think the understanding is there. Julian is a big part for us and we want to get something done.”

Barco shined in his second season and while acknowledging interest for a number of ATLUTD players, Bocanegra was also confident the young Argentine would be on the roster for the 2020 season. 

“We don’t really comment on offers we’ve got for players. We have interest in a lot of our guys, which is great,” Bocanegra said. “We have scouts at the games all the time, on a number of our players. But we plan on Barco being back for 2020 with us.”

Emerson Hyndman also emerged as an important part of the Five Stripes’ midfield and Bocanegra said there’s been positive conversations about his potential return after his loan stint from Bournemouth expires and hopes to “have some good news in the coming weeks.”

But replacing Darlington Nagbe, who was traded to Columbus earlier this month, will be problematic, De Boer calling the task “impossible.”

“Other players with other qualities are the weapons,” De Boer said. “They have to stand up and use that weapon.”

Bocanegra praised defender Florentin Pogba for his versatility and being “really great around the club.” But he again said uncertainty over the CBA made it impossible to bring him back. 

Bocanegra, though, isn’t closing the door on veteran midfielder Justin Meram, who enters free agency after his option was also not picked up. 

“We couldn’t be more happy with what Justin delivered to our group for the second half of the season,” Bocanegra said. “He’s still available out there. It is possible to re-sign him. … All that’s on the table.”

Atlanta United’s fourth season will begin as it did in 2019, with Concacaf Champions League. Bocanegra talked about lessons learned from last year’s quarterfinal exit with the technical director saying a planned preseason trip to Guadalajara is with CCL in mind. 

“You’re starting your most important games of the year, your knockout games, as your first games, which is really difficult,” Bocanegra said. “We go down and play some of the Mexican teams that are five, six, seven games into their season, maybe more. They’ve got a little bit of a rhythm.”