Despite Saturday's disappointing result, there was one piece of encouraging news that came out of this weekend for fans of Atlanta United. It came just after the hour mark with the return of striker Josef Martinez, who came on as a substitute to get valuable match action in the next step of his much-anticipated return from injury.
The Venezuelan international couldn't change the outcome of the game in his short cameo appearance, but head coach Tata Martino said he saw some promising signs of progress from Atlanta's number seven. “He looked good, he was moving well,” Martino said after the game. “I don't think you're seeing any signs of his injury, he just needs more time to get back into rhythm.”
Martinez led the team – and all of MLS for that matter – in goals after a scorching start to the season in which he netted five goals in the first three matches. But an injury sustained on international duty has forced him to the sidelines ever since, depriving the red, black and gold of one of their most lethal goal scorers for nearly three months. His teammates are hoping for him to hit the ground running and give the team a boost heading into the midst of summer.
“It's nice to have him out on the field again and around us,” midfielder Julian Gressel told reporters post-match. “It's not like we don't know how he plays anymore. It will be an easy and quick transition but we'll get him on the scoresheet pretty quickly.”
Martinez’s return to the lineup creates a bit of a selection headache for Coach Martino, whose front line has scored 28 goals this season, more than any other team in Major League Soccer. But Tata says adding another component only helps the team, and gives him a tactical flexibility that will make them more dangerous moving forward.
“We have different options we could go with,” Martino said. “One option would be to go back to how we started the season with Julian playing as a holding midfielder or next to Jeff [Larentowicz] with Tito [Villalba] on the wing. Or if we don't want to break the Carmona-Larentowicz pairing we would keep it like that so we have different options.”
Coach Martino says it's possible Martinez gets more minutes against the Charleston Battery in the team's U.S. Open Cup debut on Wednesday to help him start getting match fit. But the team is just focused on getting back to winning ways despite who makes it onto the field.
“We have to find ways to win games,” Gressel said. “We've been finding ways to lose the game which is not a good thing. We just have to turn around and analyze this game and figure out what we did wrong. But we are back at home now so we want to score goals and win the game.”
Atlanta will hope to get back to winning ways in the league next weekend as they return to the friendly confines of Bobby Dodd Stadium to face the Columbus Crew in front of what could be the club’s sixth-straight sellout. You can secure your seat here. But first, they will host USL's Charleston Battery in the team's first-ever appearance in the U.S. Open Cup at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on Wednesday. Tickets are also still available, click here to make sure you've saved your spot for the historic match.