FULLERTON, Calif. — Miguel Almiron took off for England, so Atlanta United is throwing something of a pity party in response. Not that their newest superstar would get the reference.
Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, who will step into the spot, if not the role, Almiron vacated with his reported $27 million move last month to Newcastle United, doesn't know the English meaning of his nickname.
His mother affectionately dubbed him “Pity” as a child. He says she never told him what it meant, but much has been made of the pititorra, a native bird “known for its sweet trill and electric flapping — as electric as Martinez’s football,” as an El Pais scribe put it.
It's that electricity that drew Atlanta United, and if he even approaches expectations, there'll be no need to pity the reigning MLS Cup champions.
The Argentine midfielder is a creator and goalscorer with a hammer of a left foot, a team-first standout whose rise at River Plate — climaxing with his extratime goal to ensure the Buenos Aires giants Copa Libertadores title victory over Boca Juniors and the Rey del Fútbol de América honor as South America's top player — elicited great interest from nearly everywhere, with a few of Europe's big clubs sniffing around.
The 25-year-old will get there one day, he says. His aspirations are similar to Almiron's.
“I think the level in this league is really growing, and this is a club who's doing things well,” he said in Spanish. “They're coming off a championship, so those are the things that motivated me to come. ... [The chance to move on to Europe] was a factor, too. You see players leaving [MLS] for Europe, so that played into my decision.”
He's made quite the impression in a couple of weeks at Atlanta United's training camp.
“A good attitude, a good work ethic. He's got that creative mind,” captain Michael Parkhurst said from the club's preseason headquarters at Cal State Fullerton. “You can see that he likes to take somebody one-on-one, and as soon as he's got him beat, he's looking forward to see who's running, where they are.”
Pity can score from anywhere 🤷♂️ pic.twitter.com/VBXGLe9tlK— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) February 9, 2019
It'll just be a different fit from Almiron, the linchpin of Atlanta United's success in its first two seasons. The Paraguayan playmaker had difference-making pace that, combined with his vision, elite technical skill and ability to exploit space and create for teammates, set Major League Soccer alight. He defined the Tata Martino's free-flowing attack.
Martinez is a different player: superb in a crowd, wicked shot, set-piece wizard, quick, but not a sprinter.
Midfielder Julian Gressel likes Martinez's “quality on the ball.”
“He's able to receive the ball in tight spaces, have clean touches on the ball, make two defenders miss,” Gressel said. “He's quick enough to get away from defenders, and then he has a great shot. A great strike. Which is hard for keepers. And when he's in and around the box, you always have to be aware of him.”
Martinez offered a glimpse of what's coming in a 6-1 romp Wednesday over a team of Club Tijuana U-17s, U-20s and reserves, delivering a perfect free kick that made simple Josef Martinez's fourth goal of the game.
“You saw already the last goal from Josef, the free kick? The speed that he gave to that ball, that's a weapon,” said new Atlanta coach Frank de Boer, who isn't rushing Martinez's integration into the lineup. “Also his passing ability: He's giving assists, but also scores goals, and also I think he's a player you want to watch when you go to the stadium. ...
“He's an important player, of course. What I'm seeing right now, he's eager to perform well, to train well, eager to do everything well. I like that about a player who is never satisfied, or if he makes one mistake, he wants to recover as fast as possible. Good mentality. Maybe also that's why he's already this far, because he has that kind of mentality.”
“My relationship with Miguel was different, because he wasn't just a teammate, he was like a brother,” Josef Martinez said. “Pity, he's a great player. I know playing with him, all I have to do is make the right movements and he's going to find me.”
Pity Martinez sees himself as “one more guy on the field” — one who must, he acknowledged, “take my one-v-one situations and try to unbalance the defense and get on goal and score goals and assists” — and says he needs no personal goals because “if the team is doing well, then I'll be doing well.”
He'll need a little time to adjust, though. The game is very different than in Argentina.
“In Argentina it's more aggressive,” he said. “Here it's more possession, more time with the ball — from the little I've seen — so I think that's the difference. It'll be good [to have more time on the ball], but it's a different kind of rhythm I'm getting used to.”