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Atlanta United has plans for trying to replace Josef Martinez

Manuel Castro
Manuel Castro

With time on his hands because of COVID-19, Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer runs off a list of ideas about how his team can replace Josef Martinez in the pending MLS tournament in Orlando, as well as what it has been working during its training sessions.

Martinez, league MVP in 2018 during which the team won the MLS Cup,  sustained a torn ACL in his right knee in the season-opening game at Nashville. He is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Manuel Castro was one name on a list that included Adam Jahn, who started the 2-1 win against Cincinnati , or J.J. Williams in the single striker role played by Martinez, who scored 77 goals in 84 games, or playing Pity Martinez as a false nine or Martinez and Ezequiel Barco as two 10s, which was what was used against Club America.

Atlanta United’s first game in the tournament will be July 11 against New York Red Bulls.

Castro's loan from Estudiantes in Argentina was extended earlier this week, which will keep him with the Five Stripes for the remainder of the MLS season.

“He has a lot of energy, he wants to go make runs,” de Boer said. “That’s important.”

Castro was primarily used as a right winger, right midfielder or central midfielder by Estudiantes. Though he said in March that he prefers to play on the wing, de Boer said then that he thought Castro has the skill to play anywhere in the midfield forward.

The 24-year-old made 29 appearances with three goals and one assist for Estudiantes. At his previous club, Montevideo in his native Uruguay, he scored 17 goals with 13 assists in 87 appearances.

What may also be possible is a combination of Castro, Barco, Martinez and Matheus Rossetto being used interchangeably in attacking roles.

“We can rotate a lot,” de Boer said.

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In addition to figuring out possibilities at striker, de Boer said the team has used the full training sessions to prepare for the heat and humidity it will likely experience in central Florida.

Games are scheduled to take place at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. to try to work around summer afternoon thunderstorms and sweltering humidity.

De Boer said it helps that Georgia is also hot and humid, but assistant coach Rob Valentino, who worked in Orlando, said it’s not the same as what the team will face. De Boer said he has scheduled a few training sessions at 4 p.m. to try to replicate the weather and conditions during the tournament.

De Boer predicted that playing in the conditions in Florida may be similar to what the team faced in its last game against Club America in Mexico City in mid-March.  De Boer said the high altitude, air quality and temperatures meant his team needed to be mindful of its energy. They couldn’t press for the entire game and likely won’t be able to do so in Orlando.

“We need to recognize when we have to play reserved and compact,” he said.

The team has also tried to prepare for myriad situations. He said each of the players are training hard and it's going well, so that gives him a positive vibe.

“Can play against any system and know what we want to do,” he said.