Atlanta United’s Bocanegra gives Josef Martinez vote of confidence

Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez scored his 100th goal in all competitions for the club in Wednesday's 1-0 win against Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
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Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez scored his 100th goal in all competitions for the club in Wednesday's 1-0 win against Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Credit: Atlanta United

Credit: Atlanta United

Atlanta United Vice President Carlos Bocanegra gave Josef Martinez a vote of confidence Wednesday when asked if the striker can lead the club’s attack in 2022.

Martinez, 28, led the club with 12 goals last season but didn’t appear to be the same player as in 2017, ‘18 and ‘19 when he averaged almost 26 goals per season.

Martinez still was capable of moments of brilliance, such as his game-winning volley in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati. But he would also go long stretches, such as the playoff loss at NYCFC, in which he failed to influence the outcome.

Bocanegra said that Martinez was still dealing with many issues related to his right knee, which required two surgeries in 2020 after he suffered a torn ACL in the season-opening game. That, combined with a very congested game schedule this season, affected Martinez’s performances, according to Bocanegra. Manager Gonzalo Pineda spoke many times of the need to manage Martinez’s minutes in an attempt to keep him fresh.

“He (Martinez) understands that it’s an important offseason for him,” Bocanegra said. “Let’s really focus on the rehab and getting his knee and his body back to full fitness and shape.”

Martinez, who reached 100 goals faster than anyone in league history, is the only experienced striker on the team after Wednesday’s roster moves. Backing him are Jackson Conway, who had eight appearances this season, and Erik Lopez, who had 18 appearances mostly as a winger. Bocanegra hinted that there could be another signing to add competition.

Martinez should benefit from next year’s schedule. MLS clubs will play only five midweek league games. The remaining 29 games are scheduled to be played on weekends. Atlanta United won’t be competing in the Champions League this season. The only other scheduled competition is the U.S. Open Cup -- which Pineda said he wants to win -- but the lack of games will give Martinez more time each week to rest and recover.

“You know, since we started this club, he’s a big personality in our locker room,” Bocanegra said. “He drives the team on the field. So we’re looking forward to him having ... the whole full preseason where he gets that under his belt where he’s not having to pop in and out and being rested and can recover and not get to have that full flow for the preseason to set him up for success.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 vs. Sporting KC, 3 p.m.

March 5 at Colorado, 6 p.m.

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