Although the return of Josef Martinez to the Atlanta United starting lineup grabbed all the headlines, there was another noticeable move made by manager Frank de Boer in the final match of the 2019 regular season.
Pity Martinez was left on the bench and he didn’t see the field as Ezequiel Barco got his first start since a 1-0 win on August 23 and went 63 minutes in ATLUTD’s 3-1 win over the New England Revolution. De Boer was asked about the decision after the match:
“Barco, he could play 60 minutes. I want everybody fit to start the playoffs,” De Boer said. “He can be a very major impact for us and I think he showed it already today that he’s so lively. He’s quite difficult to mark him. He’s like a little bit the same when you play against Darlington Nagbe. They can turn so quickly. And I wanted to give [Barco] those minutes. That’s why I started him and I think it went well for him.”
A media member in the press conference followed up: Is Pity currently on the outside of the competition for starting spots?
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“We have to see,” De Boer continued. “The only thing that concerns me is to win the playoffs. And today I chose this system with these players. And we have to evaluate this game. Afterwards, everybody has to be on top [of their game]. Everything can happen. Today I started with this XI and it can be changed in two weeks on the 19th.”
As for Josef Martinez starting — and scoring his 27th goal of 2019 — after missing two matches with a knee injury that was initially feared to be severe, De Boer went as far as to label him “totally fit.”
“Before yesterday he was making flying tackles so I was quite confident that he would be ready for this game and he showed it,” De Boer said. “The composure when he finished that goal was unbelievable. So it was good for him to go into the playoffs that he’s totally fit.”