Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez scores first goal in 440 days

Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez scored his first goal this season and it may lift the entire MLS franchise, which has been waiting almost 600 days to see him score in a league game.

It came in the ninth minute to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead at Miami in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“Hopefully, it’s the first of many,” Martinez said.

The striker, who missed most of last season after sustaining a torn ACL in his right knee in the MLS opener at Nashville, scored on a left-footed shot into the lower left corner. Jake Mulraney and Emerson Hyndman were given the assists.

After the goal, Martinez ran over to the sideline and embraced trainer Mario Cruz, who worked him during his rehab.

“Mario and I have suffered a lot,” Martinez said.

It was Martinez’ first goal in 440 days since he scored against Motagau in the Champions League on Feb. 25, 2020; 564 days since his last MLS goal (playoffs vs. Philadelphia Oct. 24, 2019); and 582 days since his last MLS regular season goal on Oct. 6, 2019, against New England.

Martinez sustained his knee injury on Feb. 29, 2020. The team announced that he underwent surgery on March 18.

The goal was Martinez’s 78th in 88 regular season games for the club. The Venezuelan was named MLS MVP in 2018 when he scored 31 goals.

“It’s important for him to get on the score sheet mentally,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “He’s working his way back to 100%. We’ve told him to gain confidence with every play, every turn, every challenge and every tackle. And now we can say every goal.”

Martinez was subbed off in the 73rd minute. He said he is close to being able to play 90 minutes.

He also said that he understands why people might criticize him because he hadn’t scored in the previous seven games.

“They don’t realize how difficult it was go through that injury,” he said.

Atlanta United’s offense has suffered since Martinez injury. It scored just 21 goals in its remaining 21 league games last season. His goal against Miami was the team’s eighth in eight games this season.

“It’s not how you start it’s how you finish,” he said.