Atlanta United’s Martinez will be called up by Venezuela

September 16, 2017 Atlanta - Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) heads the ball in the second half of an MLS soccer match at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, September 16, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
September 16, 2017 Atlanta - Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) heads the ball in the second half of an MLS soccer match at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, September 16, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez will be called up by Venezuela for its coming World Cup qualifying games, according to Five Stripes manager Gerardo Martino.

Martinez has scored 18 goals for the Five Stripes (15-8-7), which will play at New England (11-15-5) on Saturday. Atlanta United has qualified for the MLS playoffs and is in third in the Eastern Conference, three points behind second-place NYCFC (16-8-7). Reaching second is one of Atlanta United’s goals, according to Martino.

Atlanta United will host Minnesota on Tuesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Martinez is expected to miss that game because of the call-up. Atlanta United won’t play again until Oct. 15 when it is at New York Red Bulls.

Venezuela has already been mathematically eliminated from qualifying for the World Cup. Venezuela will play Uruguay on Oct. 5 and Paraguay on Oct. 10.

Atlanta United may have already been comfortably in second place if not an injury sustained by Martinez while playing for the national team earlier this season. The injury forced him to miss 10 of Atlanta United’s games in which it went 3-4-3.

Martinez may not be the only key player missing on Tuesday.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan said “don’t know” when asked if he expects to be called up by U.S. manager Bruce Arena for games against Panama on Oct. 6 and at Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10. Guzan said Arena communicates well. Guzan is projected to be called up by reporters who cover the U.S. team. He has 58 appearances for the U.S. If he is called up, he will also likely miss Tuesday’s game.

These are key games for the U.S. It is in fourth in CONCACAF with nine points and two games remaining. Panama is in third with 10 points. The three teams that finish with the most points automatically qualify for the World Cup, which will be held next year in Russia. Mexico has already qualified. The fourth-place team will advance to a playoff to determine which team makes the World Cup.

Atlanta United’s Kenwyne Jones, a possible replacement for Martinez, wasn’t called up by Trinidad and Tobago, which in last place in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings with just three points.

Becaue Martinez won’t be available to be selected by Martino for Tuesday, it seems likely he will play Saturday against the Revolution. Martino said he will field a lineup more similar to the strong ones he has used in the previous six games in which it has gone 5-0-1 and outscored its opponents 22-3.

As he said he has done before games, Martino said he will talk with the players, coaching staff and medical staff when before he selects the 18 players who will make game-day rosters for Saturday and Tuesday.  Michael Parkhurst, the team captain, didn’t play in Wednesday’s 3-0 win against Montreal because he needed a rest, for example.

“We are trying to go for another one of our objectives,” Martino said. “In m opinion, we aren’t in a position to do full-scale rotations but we do need to take into account some guys that might need a break.”

Winning the second seed in the MLS playoffs is important.

The third- and fourth-seeded teams will get to host playoff games. Atlanta United is 11-2-2 at home this season, including 5-0-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where it has scored 22 goals.

The first-round playoff games will be played Oct. 25 or Oct. 26. The first leg of the semifinals will be played Oct. 30 or Oct. 31. The second leg will be played Nov. 5. The Eastern Conference championship’s first leg will be held Nov. 21, with the second leg Nov. 28 or Nov. 29.

The MLS Cup will be held Dec. 9 at the site of the competing team with the best regular-season record.

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