A season ago, during the club’s first match of the 2021 MLS regular season, Atlanta United lined up against Orlando City SC with its all-time leading scorer on the bench. Josef Martínez didn’t make the start, cautiously working his way back from an ACL tear he suffered at the start of the 2020 season and the laborious recovery that followed.
One year later, in the first MLS season opener ever hosted at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the team kicked off 2022 with Martínez in the Starting XI. He assisted two of Atlanta United’s three goals and played 75 minutes in a dominant 3-1 victory over Western Conference opponent Sporting Kansas City.
The performance earned Martínez a place on MLS Team of the Week, the league announced on Monday. Martínez is the first member of Atlanta United to receive league honors in the 2022 season.
“We have a lot of hunger to do things right, to be better and to get to the MLS Cup Finals or to fight for a place at the top like all clubs want,” Martínez said prior to the start of the season. “We simply try to work hard and get better, and we hope the result is the one we want.”
The two assists against Sporting Kansas City moved Martínez up to 14 in his career. Both assists came in the first half and led to goals from Luiz Araújo and Dom Dwyer. It was the third multi-assist match Martínez has ever had at Atlanta United.
The club’s fearsome striker is usually anticipating at the line, ready to break for a through pass or ball over the top. But on Sunday, 17s saw Martínez in a playmaking role, working with other players like Tyler Wolff to create chances and drop back to allow other attackers, like Araújo and Dwyer, to run on behind the line.
“What I really liked about Josef today, and Tyler, was that there were a lot of unselfish movements,” head coach Gonzalo Pineda said after the match. “So Josef was attracting the defender and then Tyler attacking the back and we saw a lot of those in our attacking movements. And I was very pleased with that.”
Atlanta United is simply a different team with Martínez on the field. His presence helped Atlanta United create more attacking chances in its first match of the season, and he’s a big reason why Atlanta nearly doubled Sporting Kansas City in expected goals on Sunday (2.38-1.38).
It’s been a long way back for Martínez. The club’s all-time leading scorer spent the 2020 season out due to injury. He slowly made his way back in 2021, scoring 12 goals in 21 starts. And he was still incredibly popular, topping the MLS best-selling jersey list that year.
But the effects of serious injury still lingered, and the team used caution to not overload his knee, so it felt like to many that Martínez still wasn’t quite back to top form.
Now, as the week’s accolade show, Martínez is starting the season among the league’s top performers.
“There’s nothing you can’t do without hard work, will and hunger,” Martínez said.
Atlanta United looks to build on Sunday’s victory with its first road test of the season against Colorado Rapids on Saturday, March 5. Stay tuned to ATLUTD.com for the latest coverage.