Their team tied with Columbus 1-1, Atlanta United’s supporter’s section made known – quite loudly – what they hoped manager Gerardo Martino would do in Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech:
“We want Josef, We want Josef…”
Josef would be Josef Martinez, the dynamo who hadn’t played in a home match in almost three months after sustaining a thigh injury in late March while with Venezuela. His injury happened just days after Atlanta United announced that it had permantly acquired him from Torino in Italy’s Serie A.
Martinez entered the game in 63rd minute amid raucous cheers, capping the night with a goal in the 89th minute from a tight angle…followed by a few tears. Atlanta United won 3-1.
“After the goal that I scored I was a little emotional, especially because before I came on I heard all of the fans applauding me and chanting my name,” he said.
It was his sixth league goal this season, but it may be the most important yet because of the boost it may give his confidence after his long injury layoff.
“At the end of the game, I think he was a bit in tears,” teammate Greg Garza said. “It’s been tough on him. I’ve been there before as well. For a few months, you think the world is coming to an end, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I think that for him to do that today probably caused some confidence to come back and he can do even better things for us in the future.”
Martinez said he has never experienced anything like that before. After the season’s third game against Chicago in which he scored two more goals to bring his total five, he suffered his injury.
Martinez was forced to watch the team play its next game at Seattle on TV, but not before talking to them in the days before the game.
“It’s difficult being out because you want to be out there with your teammates and you want to be out there helping,” he said.
The team won just three of its 10 games while Martinez was out. That 3-4-3 record also included having to play seven road games.
Hector Villalba and Kenwyne Jones filled in well at striker while Martinez was completing his rehab. But the team is different with him at striker. He has the speed of Villalba and the aerial ability of Jones. He is tenacious when pressing and moves well without the ball.
“I think Josef is fundamental for the team for what he is,” Villalba said. “I think everyone saw that today. He came on, and the first ball that he had near goal he scored.”
It’s likely not a coincidence that as soon as he came on the team scored two goals.
On Miguel Almiron’s goal, which gave Atlanta United a 2-1 lead in the 67th minute, Columbus’ defenders had to be aware of Martinez’s ability to time runs behind them. He zigged and zagged, eventually ghosting toward the back post, which gave Almiron a shooting lane from the near post that he successfully found.
Martinez scored 21 minutes later thanks to the work of Kevin Kratz, who dispossessed Mohammed Abu and found Martinez, who hammered a left-footed shot over Zack Steffen from a tight angle.
After scoring, Martinez took the short walk toward the same supporters who had chanted his name some 30 minutes ago.
“It was a welcome return because we’re a better team when we have our goal scorer,” Martino said.
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