Pity Martinez working hard to get back into Atlanta United's starting XI

Pity Martinez – Atlanta United – fired up

MARIETTA, Ga. — Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will be the first one to tell you that he’s far from hitting the heights he’s set for himself so far in his MLS career.

“There’s always ups and downs. I’m trying to show the fans what I’m about and what they can expect from me,” the Atlanta United midfielder said after scoring the winning goal against Eastern Conference rival D.C. United on Sunday. “I always want to play. I want to play every game. I train and go to the club every day to get better and play every game. It’s been my turn to be on the bench. It’s a coach’s decision. I can just give my best every time I’m called on to enter and try to earn my spot back.”

Martinez’s recent performance is likely to vault the Argentine superstar back into Frank de Boer’s starting XI for yet another MLS showcase game against LAFC on Friday night (10 pm ET | ESPN in US; TSN2 in Canada). Brandon Vazquez, who started in place of Martínez twice last week, was removed from Atlanta’s training session Wednesday as a precaution when he felt a strain in his adductor, according to De Boer.

While Martinez downplayed the importance of the goal as it relates to his on-field form moving forward, some of his teammates who have faced similar situations in their careers know the strain the playmaker might be feeling and what a good performance or two can do to help alleviate the stress.

“I understand. When I made the move to Orlando, it was a big transfer within MLS and it was a lot of weight,” said Justin Meram, who is seemingly revitalized in Atlanta after 18 months of struggle with Orlando City and the Columbus Crew. "It was difficult at times, and you think about it constantly. I can see some of his frustrations a little bit through what I went through. It's not easy. We are human beings.”

The emotional release from Martinez after his goal Sunday was abundantly clear. It was not a choreographed celebration that players often do, trotting to the corner before making a leaping fist pump or striking a pose. Instead, he let out a primal scream and immediately embraced his teammate Josef Martínez right there in front of the net.

“I think the performance he had, it helps. Coming in and scoring a goal and getting an assist, that game he played against D.C. is going to give him a lot of confidence,” Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar said through a translator on Wednesday. “We know that he's a great player — he's shown that his whole career. There's a reason why Atlanta decided to buy him, so we have a lot of confidence in him. We know he hasn't been to the level that he wants to be at yet, but he's working hard to get there.”

Pity Martinez admitted in a recent interview with Fox Sports Argentina that he was still struggling to come to grips with De Boer’s tactics, particularly when it comes to the team’s structure without the ball. If Atlanta United are to come away from Banc of California Stadium with a win Friday night, Martinez will need to be on the same page with the rest of his teammates.

“Trust me, he wants to do well. He wants to score goals and contribute,” said Meram. “He needs maybe to just understand that we are all here to try to help him, as we want to push into a higher level as well. If we're all working together, all eleven guys, then we're a very dangerous team. I think he's trying to push and get to the level he wants to be. But it's difficult. It's much harder than all of us on the outside looking at it.”