HANOVER, N.J. — At Club Huracan in Argentina, Pity Martinez was a mentor to Kaku.
Last year, when Martinez was considering a life-altering move from powerhouse River Plate to Atlanta United, Kaku, the New York Red Bulls midfielder, served as an adviser, someone who he trusted to tell him what to expect in a new league and a new country.
Now, the former teammates will meet each other for the first time when Atlanta United square off against the Red Bulls Sunday at Red Bull Arena.
Kaku again touched based with Martinez this week, a quick catchup on the phone, confirming a post-match jersey exchange.
The process acclimating to a new league is as unique as a player’s individual skillset. Kaku came flying out of the gate in his first season in MLS with three goals and nine assists in his first nine games. Conversely, the 25-year-old Martinez finally got his first point in his ninth game, scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Orlando City SC last Sunday.
“Everyone is different when it comes to adapting,” Kaku said through a translator after training Friday. “With me, I was fortunate enough to adapt well here with the teammates I have. It made it really easy for me to get acclimated with the system. I did speak with him and he seems fine now.”
Martinez said as much recently in a candid, and apparently rare, exchange with Atlanta-based reporters.
Kaku, though, knows what that goal meant to Martinez’s mentality.
“Once you score your first goal, you can see you’re more comfortable and you’re not pressing as much to try and show you’re worth what they [paid] to get you,” he said.
Kaku’s second season in MLS has been significantly more turbulent, from open criticism of his club during a failed transfer bid to Club America, the one-game club ban for what Red Bulls coach Chris Armas called a “minor internal issue,” to an additional two-game suspension by the league after being sent off for kicking a ball into the stands out of frustration in Kansas City.
“Nobody on our team has the qualities Kaku has on the ball,” Armas said after training Wednesday. “His final play ideas, creativity, ability to calm things down and give pause to the game in a philosophy.
“When he’s healthy, when he’s out there, we know what he can bring.”