Armchair Analyst: What went wrong for Pity Martinez at Atlanta United and what it means

When the Pity Martinez rumors started up at the end of 2018, just after Atlanta United had won MLS Cup and just after Pity had led River Plate to the Copa Libertadores and won South American Player of the Year honors, they seemed ... incredible. As in, they could not possibly be credible, because MLS teams didn't just go out and sign in-their-prime River Plate stars. MLS teams didn't sign Argentine national team players, and didn't sign reigning South American Players of the Year.

And yet, they were not just rumors. They were reports, and then they were fact. Pity joined the Five Stripes.

Despite everything else that happened in the subsequent and mostly unhappy 19 months, a stay in Atlanta that appears destined to end with a massive, $18 million-move to Al-Nassr of Saudi Arabia, just getting a player with Pity's accomplishments to MLS in the first place was a massive victory.

This wasn't Josef Martinez, returning to the Americas after having been used incorrectly (they made him at damn winger) in Serie A, nor was it Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, a good — sometimes great — center back in his prime. It wasn't Brad Guzan or Michael Parkhurst returning from Europe, or a young but still largely unproven potential phenom like Ezequiel Barco.

Pity's signing was the first time in league history that an MLS team went out on the global market, took a look around... and flexed. Legitimately and noticeably flexed.

He was in his prime, hoisting the second-most prestigious club trophy in the world, and pushing into one of the most stacked international rosters out there. He was, at the time, a signing unlike any other in league history. He was not a Miguel Almiron "replacement." Pity's accomplishments in South America dwarfed Almiron's.

Almiron's shoes were those that Pity was supposed to more than fill. Yet he decidedly did not.

Martinez, even when winning everything there was to win with River Plate, was never the type of ball-dominant, two-way force who could give an entire attack its shape, as Almiron had been for Atlanta. Pity drifted in and out of games, took (a lot of) shots he shouldn't, and turned the ball over in bad spots. For River, it was worth it because their structure was so sound and their overall talent level tended to give them a built-in advantage in 95 percent of their games. They were going to control the match, and they needed someone with the individual skill and audacity to take risks others wouldn't and occasionally break things open.

Atlanta under Frank De Boer were not built like that, and judging from the way his teams have played, I don't think de Boer would ever have countenanced an overall approach like that. There were no luxury players for the Dutchman, and so even with all of Pity's accomplishments, he was, I would argue, destined to come up well short of expectations. And so he did.

It says something about the overall talent level on that 2019 Atlanta team that they won two trophies last year anyway, and Pity was a part of both. By that measure, his tenure here was something of a success. It also says something about the business of soccer that even with a largely disappointing stay in MLS, the Five Stripes seem to have turned a nice profit here. We all know that Arthur Blank will happily put that right back into the team. By that measure, I think you'd again have to term Pity's stay at least something of a success.

But it was not the kind of success Almiron had, and it was not the kind of success Atlanta or their fans wanted. I don't think there's anyone disputing that, but it needs to be said.

And so now it is time to enter the next era for the Five Stripes. The advice I have is this: Wait a bit. Find the right manager first and get everyone on the page with regard to team identity and player profiles, because it turns out that MLS isn't the type of league where you can sign the reigning, in-his-prime South American Player of the Year, just plop him down into the XI and expect him to dominate.

If there's one thing to really take away from Pity's time in MLS, it's that there is no guarantee of success here no matter who you are or what your resume is.

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