Pity Martinez - close up - sideline

Pity Martinez believes MLS is still the place to make his case for a national team return and a European move, despite rumors connecting him to transfer back to South America.

"Those rumors always end up on social media, but my head is here in Atlanta," Martinez told reporters on Friday. "I’m not thinking about going back to South America. I want to concentrate on here and then hopefully go to Europe and back to the national team, which is very important for me."

Martinez has been linked to Brazilian Serie A side Gremio this offseason after his first year in Atlanta, which included some rough early moments.

Signed for a reported fee of around $14 million, Martinez was tasked with filling the massive shoes of departed midfield general Miguel Almiron. He went until May 12 before he contributed on the scoresheet of an MLS match, and finished the season with five goals and nine assists, short of what some would've expected of the 2018 South American Player of the Year and Copa Libertadores winner.

A year later, he admits maybe some of the hype surrounding his arrival had an impact.

"I think there was a lot of pressure at the beginning last season," Martinez said Friday. "But over the course of the year I started feeling better and getting along better with my teammates, and I felt that at the end of the season."

Martinez finished strong, scoring or contributing an assist in four of his last five regular season outings, and assisting a goal each in Atlanta's Eastern Conference Semifinals and Final matches. And although Atlanta lost in the East final, they also won their first U.S. Open Cup and became the first MLS team to win the Campeones Cup.

"We were able to turn it around even though a lot of people were doubting us," Martinez said, "and we were able to make it to a final and also win two trophies last season, so that was really important for the club."

Now age 26, Martinez is looking to build on his three senior international caps, the last of which came in March. His 20-year-old club teammate Ezequiel Barco may also have a future with the Albiceleste first team, although Atlanta recently declined to release him to Argentina's U-23 squad for upcoming Olympic qualifying.

Although Martinez and Barco are among Atlanta's most dynamic chance creators, they only started on the field together eight times during their first season as teammates, with Barco dealing with some nagging injuries as well as U-20 World Cup duty.

Changing that this season would appear in the best interest of both players, not to mention Atlanta striker Josef Martinez and manager Frank de Boer.

"I think he’s a great player and we have a really good understanding on the field," Barco said on Friday. "It’s up to the coach who’s on the field but hopefully I can play with Pity and Josef because we have a good understanding."