ATLANTA — There’s an old adage in sports that “winning cures all ills.”
That statement has perhaps never been more appropriate than in the case of Atlanta United — a team that found itself mired in controversy again this week before smashing the LA Galaxy 3-0 in front of an MLS regular-season record attendance of 72,548 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 22.
The controversy around Atlanta United has largely centered around manager Frank de Boer and some of his key South American players, Pity Martinez most notable among them. But against the Galaxy, the Argentine put on his best performance of the season, registering the third-most touches on the team, four shots, three chances created and providing the cross leading to the own goal that opened the scoring.
De Boer, who has been critical of the star addition's mentality at times this season, credited the player for his effort in the win.
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“You see when he makes his action, you see more power behind it, and I think also more confidence,” De Boer said of Martinez’s performance. “I think he can now easily keep 90 minutes concentrated and also chasing the ball in the 90th minute against two defenders — this is what everyone's been waiting for.”
The good vibes in Atlanta come not just in the context of the three points, but the manner in which the points were won. De Boer reverted to a formation utilizing three center backs following the season-ending injury to Brek Shea in Seattle, and since then, the Five Stripes have looked like a different team.
“In the beginning [of the season] we played the same a little bit, but they [the players] had a feeling it was with five defenders,” said De Boer. “But if you play dominant, you play with three. That's how you see it, and now everybody thinks we play with three.
“Of course we want to attack and press as high as possible, it's just the mindset is different now… Some things help you get over that wall and you feel a little more free.”
Not only is the mindset improving in the team, but Atlanta are getting key players back on the field to help Martinez — specifically, Ezequiel Barco. The Week 22 match against LA was Barco’s first start for Atlanta since May 5, and his influence on the game and the way he aided the effectiveness of his fellow Argentine was apparent.
“Earlier in the year when we're playing a 5-4-1 — Pity is one of the left interior midfielders — when he's picking his head up, he's seeing basically only Josef [Martinez],” said Jeff Larentowicz, who played in his 412th MLS match. “He doesn't have someone to play with. He needs an extra body. He needs someone to occupy spaces. He needs someone that can draw defenders so that he can have space once he gets on it, and tonight is a perfect example. I think that the balance from right to left between [Pity and Barco] was perfect.”