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Josef Martinez's struggles continue, but FDB insists he's not worried

MARIETTA, Ga. — On his way to winning the Golden Boot and setting the MLS single-season goals record last season, it seemed like Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez couldn’t miss.

In a new year, under a new manager, with new players around him and a different tactical approach, Martinez has only two goals through six games. The latest was an inconsequential penalty kick in stoppage time in a 2-1 loss to FC Dallas last Saturday. 

Frank de Boer, the new manager, admits the well is currently dry for his star striker.

“It's things that every striker has sometimes,” de Boer said Thursday. “You just need that tap-in or that ugly [goal] and suddenly they have that feeling back again. ... For me, the most important thing is he gets those chances and I'm convinced when the first one will fall, a lot will fall behind them. I'm not worried.”

Of course, Martinez has had to adapt following the departure of Miguel Almiron, his primary assist-provider the past two seasons, to Newcastle United of the Premier League. That has pushed the Venezuelan into a different role, wide man Julian Gressel said.

“He's obviously helped us ... where he slips balls through and drops deeper,” Gressel said last week. “Now defenders are really going to have to not just watch their back shoulders when he makes runs in behind, but to go with him into midfield. If he can make those passes as well, it adds a little wrinkle to his game.”

There's also the matter of learning how to play with another highly-talented South American superstar in Pity Martinez, who arrived in preseason from River Plate. While Pity Martinez partially inhabit's Almiron's role, Atlanta’s other ex-River player, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, said the swap is far from like-for-like.

“Miguel and Pity are kind of different players,” the center back said. “Pity is more a player with the ball. Miggy can play without the ball because he's fast and runs to the spaces. Pity is more creative, more of [an assist provider] and we try for them to know each other. We need time for that. With the time, maybe we can create a new [connection].”

One might assume Josef’s new role, especially one that pulls him further from goal, would limit his chances. But the the statistics so far don’t bear that out. Through six games, Martinez is averaging more shots per game (3.33) than he did in his previous two seasons under Tata Martino (3.03). During his record-breaking season in 2018, Martinez only averaged 2.85 shots per game.

In other words, Martinez has found chances to score in 2019, but hasn't capitalized frequently.

After the Dallas game, de Boer said that his players must take responsibility to finish the chances the team creates. But he reinforced Thursday that with someone of Martinez’s character, it’s not a matter of if he’ll start scoring, but when.

“He's so eager,” said de Boer. “Maybe [Filippo] Inzaghi was a player like that. They are so eager to score. Their whole life is about scoring and I think that's a fantastic characteristic as a striker. ... [Luiz] Suarez is the same. I remember when we'd play friendly games [at Ajax], he was scoring goals against amateur clubs, but he was taking the ball out of the net and running back, put it on the spot on the halfway line and try to score again. That's the mentality Josef has. It's fantastic to see. I love that.”


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