ORLANDO, Fla. -- Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez says he soon hopes to play in the same starting lineup again with Ezequiel Barco and Gonzalo "Pity" Martinez, saying his two teammates are "special talents."
Martinez will take part in his second consecutive MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday, and hopes to reprise his MVP performance from a year ago. But much of the news around him and his Atlanta United teammates is how the Five Stripes have failed to play at the same level that saw them claim the MLS Cup in only their second season.
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"It's a lot of change, the new coaching staff," he said referring to Dutchman Frank de Boer, who took over from the departed Tata Martino. "The first five games were hard for us, because we [didn't] have the tactics, maybe we [didn't] understand what we're going to do. Sometimes we play good, sometimes not, it's normal in soccer. But we're second in the [Eastern Conference] table so we have to keep going and try to do [our] best."
Josef Martinez has done his bit, scoring 17 goals and adding two assists in 20 appearances. The same can't be said for Pity Martinez, who joined Atlanta from River Plate as the reigning South American Player of the Year. His performances have been mixed, and he looks to be chafing at De Boer's methods. In last weekend's 4-3 defeat to LAFC, Pity was replaced in the 59th minute in favor of Barco, a curious move given Atlanta was trailing at the time. De Boer later explained that with Barco coming in, Pity Martinez was his only choice to come out.
The last time the three players started a match together was on May 5 against Sporting Kansas City, though Barco's participation with Argentina at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, as well as a knee injury kept him out of the lineup since then. The reigning league MVP hopes that changes this weekend against the LA Galaxy.
"Hopefully it comes soon because they are such special talents," he said about possibly playing with Barco and Pity Martinez. "They are such good players. We want to see joy on the field, so it's better if we play the three together and hopefully this week."
Josef Martinez missed some time as well, playing for Venezuela in the 2019 Copa America, where La Vinotinto finished second in a group featuring finalists Brazil and Peru before falling to Argentina 2-0 in the quarterfinals.
"We are a good team, especially there's a lot of young guys that have amazing futures, I [hope] so," he said. "Against Argentina we [were] close, but I enjoyed the moment. I enjoy it because you never know how many times you [get to] go to the national team, or you have that experience to play against amazing teams, for example Peru and Brazil, they [went] to the final. I have to enjoy it. That's what I'm looking for."
As for his club exploits, Josef Martinez remarked that it's good to be home, and he says he still thinks much can be achieved this season.
"I know it's not the same," he said comparing the current season to 2018. "But hopefully [we get] close to there."
Josef Martinez added that it's the responsibility of the players to turn things around.
"On the field, you are the players, so you have to do the best [you can]," he said. "It's not what we [do] in the formation, it doesn't matter if we play like this or like this. You're on the field. You are the leader."