Yes, he’s back.
Josef Martínez trained fully on Tuesday, taking extra shots on goal as practice wrapped. He sat out of the match against Philadelphia on September 25 because Gonzalo Pineda didn’t want to overload him, but the head coach confirmed that Martínez will be available for Atlanta’s next match against Inter Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday.
“Just his presence inspires the rest of the players,” Pineda said.
Pineda will remain cautious and manage Martínez’s minutes. He wants to make sure the striker isn’t pushed too far physically or mentally at this point in the season. But with the club’s all-time leading scorer available (and sitting at 99 goals for the club in all competitions), there’s a strong chance that the striker will see the pitch on Wednesday.
Here are a few more observations and insights from the Training Ground:
Moving On From Philly
Saturday’s game in Philadelphia left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It wasn’t just the 1-0 loss that broke the team’s three-match winning streak. The style of play wasn’t as fast or fluid as it was in the last few matches.
Pineda called it “disappointing performance,” and added that it wasn’t just one or two players – no one looked sharp on Saturday.
“Games like that happen unfortunately,” defender Miles Robinson said. “But it’s just about focusing on the next one.”
Prior to the game in Philadelphia, the team played well, winning three in a row which moved them up the Eastern Conference table. But being limited to just six shots, two on target, against the Union seemed uncharacteristic of a team that scored 10 goals in its last three matches.
The disjunction may have been a result of not having Martínez in the lineup, but Pineda offered another possibility for the team's lack of consistency: having a young team.
“When you have more mature teams, you know what to expect,” Pineda said.
The team took time to reflect over the last few days. They watched film and strengthened their mentality, leaving them hungry to see the pitch again.
“The team is in a better place now,” Pineda said.
But Also… Learning From Philly
During his postgame press conference after the loss, Pineda said that he would take time to reflect on the match. And on Tuesday, speaking to the media for the first time since then, Pineda was able to share what he learned from his first experience managing Atlanta United on the road.
He said that the team didn’t match Philadelphia’s intense pressure. He also said he could’ve given a stronger message to make sure his team did the little things. He credited the Union with being able to capitalize on Atlanta’s mistakes and said that his team needs to be able to recover from situations like that.
“It’s not just joga bonito and toca toca and tiki taka,” he said. “Sometimes we need to put the effort in because there are teams like Philadelphia that go all in.”
One of those players who sometimes looks to joga bonita, or play pretty, is Luiz Araújo. The lack of flow in Saturday's match frustrated the striker, and he had difficulty finding space against Philadelphia’s diamond midfield. But Araújo has had a good week at practice, according to Pineda, and has looked for opportunities to score goals.
“When he’s in that mood, I have a good feeling about the next game,” Pineda said.
Seeking Win No. 1 Against Inter Miami
A match on Wednesday following a match on Saturday seems like a short span, but the team is welcoming the quick turnaround. Players are grateful for the opportunity to go back out and prove themselves, and Pineda emphasized that the preparation in training sessions this week has been good.
“It’s good to have a game so close so we can bounce back even quicker and get back to the way we were playing before,” defender George Bello said.
The next opponent on the schedule is Inter Miami CF, a club Atlanta has only played once so far this season but will see twice in its final eight games. The last meeting between the two teams resulted in a 1-1 draw.
Inter Miami is coming off a 5-1 loss to Nashville last week and has been outscored in 9-1 in its previous two matches. Still, Inter Miami cannot be overlooked. Phil Neville’s club brings big challenges and a good roster that can be tricky in the midfield. Atlanta has never beaten Inter Miami, going 0-2-3.
And with 32 points in the table, just four behind Atlanta, Inter Miami is one of those teams hunting for a playoff spot and keeping the Eastern Conference table crowded.
“We always have tough games against Miami,” Robinson said.
Getting this next match at home is giving the Atlanta players an extra boost. Going up against a difficult conference opponent in front of home fans is something they see as an advantage.
“It being a home game, we’re going in confident,” Bello said.
The Team’s Ethos
Assistant coach Rob Valentino and forward Erick Torres are currently in health and safety protocol and haven't been at the facility. The timeline for their return is up in the air but likely to come after the match on October 2 against Montréal.
In Valentino’s absence, the team has gotten help from another member of the program: Matt Lawrey. The Academy director has been helping the coaching staff and will be on the bench when the team faces Inter Miami.
Lawrey’s willingness to help the club is characteristic of the whole organization, Pineda said, and part of the club's personality.
“That’s the ethos of the team,” Pineda said. “The team has many people willing to help the club in any way.”