Josef Martinez not in starting lineup for second consecutive game

It has happened only a handful of times when he’s been fully healthy, but Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez didn’t start for the second straight game when the team played to a 1-1 draw against Orlando Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

ExploreJosef Martinez's critical comments following loss on July 9

Was the benching of Martinez - the 2018 MLS MVP and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer - punishment for critical comments of teammates and the front office after the 3-0 loss to Austin on July 9? Manager Gonzalo Pineda has instead referenced load management regarding Martinez’s surgically rebuilt right knee and the need for a different skill at the position behind his decision to keep Martinez out of the starting lineup for the Salt Lake win July 13 and Sunday’s draw.

Since signing with the club ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, when healthy Martinez has failed to start in back-to-back games less than five times.

Pineda explained Martinez’s absence Wednesday’s game as load management. Martinez had started the two previous games and team was in the midst of playing three games in seven days. Pineda has elected to not start Martinez at the end of such a stretch, most recently the game at Red Bulls on June 30. Martinez had started the previous two games before Red Bulls. Martinez also started five consecutive games to start the season. He then needed arthroscopic surgery on his knee.

The timing of Martinez not starting on Wednesday coincided with the comments after the Austin game.

Asked on Wednesday if Martinez didn’t start as a result of his comments, Pineda didn’t say yes or no.

“I’m going to be very, very short on that,” he said. “We all want to win, period. Josef wants to win, the team wants to win, I want to win. I think we are all on the same page that we want to win. Whether it is Ronaldo starting, whether it’s Josef or starting in that time, or it can be the opposite. I know Josef very well. He wants to be with the rest of the team also wants to be with Atlanta. I want to be with Atlanta. So we are all on the same page. So whatever discussions we have among us in conversations, we all know that we all want to win.”

Appearing on the team’s radio partner on Thursday, Pineda was asked if Martinez had been benched against Real Salt Lake. Again, Pineda was non-committal in his answer. First, Pineda said that he doesn’t normally discuss the reasons why he doesn’t select players for the starting 11. He said he picked Cisneros for the Real Salt Lake game because of his speed, which can threaten spaces behind centerbacks. His first goal against Real Salt Lake was an example.

Pineda then reportedly described Martinez as just another player to ESPN in one of its production meetings ahead of Sunday’s game. The context of the question and if there was more to the answer weren’t provided.

Pineda wasn’t asked after Sunday’s game why Martinez wasn’t selected for the starting 11. Cisneros did score two goals, so he had the hot foot.

The team will next play at L.A. Galaxy on July 24.

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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 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

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, 5:30 p.m., FS1

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

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

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