The Five Stripes won the title in just their second season. But after the departure of two key figures they have struggled to find a new identity
Gonzalo Pity Martnez was welcomed to the US with a song. As he stepped off the team bus, Atlanta United supporters chanted: l Pity Martnez, que loco que esta,echoing fans in Madrid months earlier where Pity sealed the Copa Libertadores for River Plate.
It was a fitting welcome for the Argentinian who, until then, shared only a single quality with the club he signed for: a brief but bright history. The chants showed fans expectations were high. But at the start of this season, neither Atlanta nor their new star have lived up to expectations. Reality is setting in.
After winning the MLS title in just their second season, and pulling in average home crowds of 53,000, United have won just two of their first six games. Their 4-0 trouncing of Costa Rican side Herediano in the Concacaf Champions League showed how good they can be. But against better sides, like last nights empty second leg win against Monterrey, Frank De Boers team and Pity have looked sluggish and creatively shallow.
Many expected Pity would immediately be able to replace the brilliant Miguel Almirn, who determined the pace of play and ran Atlantas attack before his departure to Newcastle. Pity hasnt quite hit those heights: so far hes produced one assist, a yellow card and innumerable frustrated facial expressions.
At River Plate, Pity was manager Marcelo Gallardos personal project. He was brought to the team as a promising 21-year-old, and was given all the time he needed to grow to replace veteran Andrs DAlessandro. Gallardo rotated him around the midfield until finally finding his place on the left. Playing off his favored foot after receiving the ball in the final third, Pity would produce chances after short spurts of possession. With one dribble he could drop the ball into the box. But at Atlanta, De Boer is asking him too much of him.
The Dutchmans tactics helped to develop players like Christian Eriksen, who played Pitys playmaker position in the same system. De Boer asks his creative midfielders to attack through the middle of the pitch. Gallardos River Plate are more direct but not entirely different in style, but there Pity could depend on two class box-to-box center midfielders, Enzo Prez and Ignacio Fernndez, to carry the ball forward before handing it off to him upfield.