Pity Martinez dribbles vs. Motagua

ATLANTA — When Atlanta United bought Pity Martinez from River Plate last January for close to a record fee for an MLS club, everyone from fans to coaches to Pity himself expected greatness.

That didn’t quite happen.

“Last year wasn’t my best year,” Martinez admitted through a translator Tuesday night following a man-of-the-match performance in Atlanta’s 3-0 win over FC Motagua to secure their place in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals. “I always work to give my best. My head wasn’t where it needed to be last year. But this is the Pity that you all want to see.”

In his team’s first home game of 2020, Pity Martinez didn’t just flash glimpses of his potential — he was dominant. His combination play with Ezequiel Barco and Josef Martinez looked as crisp as Atlantans have ever seen the attacking trident. But in addition to the technical skill that helped Pity bag two goals and an assist, Pity showed strength in the middle of the park when Motagua defenders nipped at his feet.

“We obviously studied and analyzed him, but it was very hard to contain him,” FC Motagua manager Diego Vasquez said through a translator. “He has that similar play like [Lionel] Messi from left to right, so it was very hard.”

With more players available to him Tuesday, Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer reverted to the 3-4-3 system the team used for the duration of preseason training. The tactical familiarity shown through the holistic performance of the team while allowing stars like Pity to shine bright.

“He’s really involved — really committed — in how he trains and how he wants to be a very important player for the team, but also helping young guys,” De Boer said about his Argentine talisman. “He showed his quality also last season, but he was maybe a little bit inconsistent. He knows that, everybody knows that. But when he came in this preseason, he was really determined to show himself. He wants to be a leader for the team. He has that quality to do that. I'm really pleased with how he's involved in everything. He's really fun to watch.”

De Boer admitted that this is just the beginning — that Pity and the team as a whole can still improve on Tuesday night’s showing at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw. And Pity himself acknowledged that his on-field partnership with Josef Martinez continues to grow.

“Last year I wasn’t as sharp with him but little by little you work on it, keep gaining confidence and getting to know each other,” said Pity Martinez, before humbly giving a nod to his teammate. “We’re happy that he keeps scoring. He’s our star and he has to stay on that path.”