Can Atlanta United win without Josef Martinez?

Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez #7 shoots during the match against Cincinnati FC at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio on Sunday November 7, 2021. (Photo by Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

Credit: Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

caption arrowCaption
Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez #7 shoots during the match against Cincinnati FC at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio on Sunday November 7, 2021. (Photo by Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

Credit: Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

Josef Martinez will not play for Atlanta United in Sunday’s MLS game at Charlotte.

He flew to Pittsburgh on Monday to have his right knee examined after experiencing discomfort while on international duty with Venezuela. It’s the same knee that required ACL surgery in March 2020 and then three more surgeries to clean out scar tissue and an infection in December. A teammate said Tuesday that Martinez has been playing while in pain this season.

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Atlanta United has played without Martinez, once one of the best strikers in MLS history, many times.

Notably, it was forced to play without him for 22 games in 2020. That was the only season in which the team didn’t qualify for the playoffs. It scored only 23 goals in 23 games. But that team wasn’t constructed like this Atlanta United team. That team’s other Designated Players, Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez, weren’t scorers. They weren’t consistent providers, either. Most MLS teams will go only as far as their DPs can carry them.

This team has two more DPs, Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo, who suffered a hamstring injury in the season’s first game and has yet to return. It seems that he may return sooner rather than later and has shown in his brief minutes played that he can break down a defense. Almada, who in early returns, seems like he can both a scorer and provider. It also has Marcelino Moreno, a former Designated Player who seems to produce a moment of brilliance each game such as his goal to beat D.C. United or pass for the game-winner against Charlotte. It has promising homegrowns such as Jackson Conway and Tyler Wolff, who produce for the USL team but are still finding their footing in MLS. It has Emerson Hyndman, who is seems close to returning his his ACL injury. And, if needed, the team will sign a player this summer to shore up any weaknesses.

The team isn’t without resources or players who can score.

And there is this: Atlanta United hasn’t had to rely on Martinez to score to win this season. It’s clear that Martinez still isn’t what he once was when he scored 77 goals in his first three seasons. He’s not making hard runs at defenders. He seldom tries to win aerial duels. He’s dropping back more and more to become a facilitator for his teammates rather than staying on the shoulders of centerbacks like he used to. Some of that may be tactics. In the past year, his average goals of 0.62 per 90 minutes puts him in the top 90% of MLS, according to fbref.com. But there are issues: his dribbles completed puts him in the lower 9% in MLS. His shot-creating actions puts him in the lower 35%. His progressive carries puts him in the lower 27%.

With Martinez not playing well, others have stepped up. Eight different players this season have scored for the Five Stripes, which have nine goals. The number of scorers is tied with LAFC for the league’s most. In the past three games, it has taken seven points with goals scored in stoppage time. Martinez, who has two goals this season, scored none of them. Jake Mulraney scored the winner against Charlotte. Brooks Lennon scored the tying goal against Montreal. Moreno scored the winner against D.C. United.

Consider that last season, when Martinez scored the team went 7-1-3. This season, it is 1-0-1. When he didn’t last season, the team went a respectable 6-8-9. This season it is 2-1-0.

There is more to Martinez than his scoring. There is his intensity. There is his demanding nature. That will be a challenge to replace.

“It’s not just his quality,” winger Mulraney said. “Like his presence, you know, he’s got got quite a good presence around the changing room in terms of making people lift their game, maybe 5 to 10%.”

The team has the confidence built from securing three positive results in stoppage time of its past three games to help buoy its spirits, as well.

“That shows a character, and also shows a quality, you know, fitness as well to keep going,” Mulraney said.

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 at Charlotte, 1:30 p.m., ABC, ESPN Deportes

April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., Peachtree TV

April 24 at Miami, 1 p.m., ESPN

April 30 at Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 15 vs. New England, 1:30 p.m., ESPN

May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX

May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 19 vs Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

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