Football Features

Pity Martinez: MLS’ very own Jekyll and Hyde strikes again

By Chris Smith

MLS-weekly-round-up-playoffs

Published: 22:26, 30 June 2019

MLS week 17 was a busy one, with two sets of fixtures across Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (UK time).

As ever, goals were on tap, shocks were waiting around every corner and a whole host of talking points were drummed up as teams battled it out to strengthen their playoff hopes or even just scrape off the bottom of their conference.

And to help you make sense of everything, Squawka’s weekly MLS drop is back to go over the biggest moments.

MLS week 17 snapshot

If you were watching from the UK, you’d have had to wait up a long time to get stuck into the first round of games this week, with the kick-offs all in the early hours of Thursday morning. But those who did brave a tired day in work were not disappointed. The game of the night, and quite possibly the week, was Toronto’s 3-2 VAR-induced win over Atlanta United, with Pity Martinez once again taking Five Stripes fans from euphoria to desperation, all in a night’s work. More on that later.

Wayne Rooney served up another treat with another halfway line goal, sealing a 1-0 win over Orlando City for DC United, while Portland Timbers’ away-day struggles continued with a 2-1 defeat to Montreal Impact.

Heading into the weekend, Montreal were unable to build on that as they went down 2-1 to Atlanta, while FC Cincinnati’s struggles in the basement of MLS continued with a 7-1 thrashing to Minnesota United at Allianz Field. Colorado Rapids pulled off one of the shocks of the season, taking down Supporters Shield leaders LAFC 1-0, while Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union twice threw away their lead to lose 4-2 away to NYCFC.

Just for good measure, Rooney scored again from the penalty spot in DC’s 1-1 draw with Toronto and if all that wasn’t enough, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s LA Galaxy were absolutely hammered 3-0 by San Jose Earthquakes in their California Clasico showdown in front of over 50,000 fans.

In the final game of the week, Portland Timbers beat FC Dallas 1-0 at Providence Park, with Argentine striker Brian Fernandez scoring in his fifth-straight MLS game since joining from Liga MX side Nexaca and, in turn, breaking the league for the longest scoring streak for a new player.

What they said

“I think he played quite well, he was setting up the first goal also coming inside, playing it to Justin, moves through, makes the space for Justin to come inside. I have no problem with that, but the second half, especially around the 60, 65 minutes he was making too many mistakes and then it’s a danger for the team at that moment. Then it’s my choice to make a decision.”

Frank de Boer on Pity Martinez’s performance vs Montreal Impact

“That was a big one. That’s one of the biggest wins in the past two years easy. They were nine points clear at the top of the table and on merit they were very good. I thought we defended brilliantly.”

Tim Howard on Colorado’s 1-0 win over LAFC

“I looked at the goalkeeper and spotted him maybe a couple of minutes before I actually scored. I saw he was quite high and I knew if the ball fell for me in that position or towards the half-way line, then the opportunity would be there to shoot.”

Wayne Rooney on his stunning goal against Orlando City

“I put a lot of pressure, that’s my game. I did it everywhere. [Manchester] United, Juventus, Barcelona, Milan. That’s the environment I came from, and I said I come here because I want a lot. I don’t come here to relax, and that’s who I am, and so far I’ve won 33 trophies. That’s probably more than the whole MLS won together. So I know what I’m doing, trust me.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic on his recent outbursts

Pity Martinez: MLS’ very own Jekyll and Hyde

With every week that goes by, that $17m fee Atlanta United paid to bring Copa Libertadores winner and South American Player of the Year, Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez, to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium looks more and more head-scratching.

One minute, he’s dancing through defences, winning and converting penalties and looking like a real Argentina international. The next, he’s blazing one over the bar in the last minute, leaving Five Stripes fans pulling their hair out. And that was all just in Atlanta’s 3-2 defeat to Toronto.

Coming in to replace MLS Cup-winning star Miguel Almiron was always going to be tough, even for an international teammate of Lionel Messi, but nobody in their wildest dreams could have predicted it would be like this.

In 16 MLS outings so far, Pity has managed just two goals – one of which was a penalty – and two assists – one of which was a very simple pass for Justin Meram’s screamer against Montreal on Saturday. Sure, his movement to create the space for Meram was good but, still, it barely counts as an assist.

The 26-year-old has completed 90 minutes just four times in MLS play so far, with De Boer often quick to pull him out the firing line, even if that means putting the seats in the Atlanta dugout in serious danger. The Dutchman often turns to the likes of Meram and youngster Dion Pereira when searching for a way through a hard-to-break-down defence rather than trusting in his star creator and that pattern was repeated against Montreal.

A brief look at some stats paints a decent picture for Pity: more successful dribbles (31), more key passes (29) and more shots outside the area (26) than any other Atlanta player. But that final stat goes a long way toward revealing the problem.

Pity is firing speculative shots from all angles as he desperately tries to find that moment of magic, meaning he has an xG of just 3.93, ranking 45th in MLS in that metric and 9.72 behind leader Carlos Vela. He’s been dispossessed more times (24) than any Atlanta player as he seeks to inspire some confidence and despite trying his best to create for his teammates, ranks just 29th in MLS for xA with 2.98, 3.53 behind Alejandro Pozuelo atop this stat.

MLS 2019 top scorers so far:

  • Carlos Vela (LAFC) – 16
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy) – 11
  • Josef Martinez (Atlanta United) – 10
  • Wayne Rooney (DC United) – 10

There’s still plenty of time for Pity to turn things around. Right now, he’s being upstaged by compatriot Ezequiel Barco, who is scoring screamers for fun and impressed during the U-20 World Cup. But Barco himself struggled during the 2018 campaign – his first with the Five Stripes – and is now showing what can happen when a player is given the chance to adjust to the intense travel, logistical and physical demands of MLS.

Every MLS result from week 17

Thursday, June 27

New England Revolution 1-1 Philadelphia Union

Montreal Impact 2-1 Portland Timbers

DC United 1-0 Orlando City

Toronto FC 3-2 Atlanta United

FC Dallas 2-2 Vancouver Whitecaps

San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 Houston Dynamo

Saturday, June 29

New York Red Bulls 3-1 Chicago Fire

Colorado Rapids 1-0 LAFC

Minnesota United 7-1 FC Cincinnati

Atlanta United 2-1 Montreal Impact

Sunday, June 30

New York City FC 4-2 Philadelphia Union

Columbus Crew 0-2 Orlando City

New England Revolution 2-1 Houston Dynamo

DC United 1-1 Toronto FC

Real Salt Lake 2-0 Sporting KC

San Jose Earthquakes 3-0 LA Galaxy

Seattle Sounders 1-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Monday, July 1

Portland Timbers 1-0 FC Dallas