One of the highlights of Saturday's 3-1 win over the Columbus Crew was the goal-scoring return to Bobby Dodd Stadium for striker Josef Martinez. But what fans may not have seen was the emotion Martinez felt after the game, with the Venezuelan star holding back a few tears after the final whistle.
“After the goal, I was a little emotional,” Martinez said through a translator after the match. “Especially because before I came on I heard all of the fans applauding me and chanting my name. I’m happy to get the goal tonight and I’m also happy for the work that my team is doing.”
Martinez's flying start with five goals in three games pushed him to the top of the MLS scoring chart, but an injury suffered on international duty has forced him to the sidelines for nearly three months. Martinez opened up after the match about the struggles he's faced having to sit out.
“Before that first game in Seattle, I had never been through anything like that before where I was watching the game on TV and my teammates are playing there without me,” Martinez said. “It was hard and I even told the players in the talk before that game. It’s difficult being out because you want to be out there with your teammates and you want to be out there helping”
One player who can relate that feeling of missing out is left back Greg Garza, who's faced his own long-term injury problems in the past.
“It’s been tough on him,” Garza said. “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 has picked up right where he left off before his injury, picking up two goals for the club in just three days after getting the start versus the Charleston Battery on Wednesday in their U.S Open Cup debut. One person thrilled to see Martinez's return is head coach Tata Martino, who voiced his pleasure with his number seven's level of play after the match.
“Its all good news regarding Josef,” Martinez said through a translator. “It was a welcome return because we’re a better team when we have our goal scorer.”
Fans have asked what his now-signature goal celebration – which includes a hand gesture in the shape of a C – means, but he's going to keep the fans guessing, saying it's a personal message. One thing is for sure: Martinez is enjoying his time in MLS and hasn't second-guessed his move to Atlanta.
“One thing my family always told me was, ‘changes are important, and they are good things.’ I’m happy to be here in Atlanta. I’m here with a group of guys who want to do something very important with this team. I appreciate all of the support of my teammates and I’m very happy to be here and proud to be a part of this club.”
Martinez and the rest of the red, black, and gold will be hoping to keep their form going into Wednesday, where they face another Eastern Conference rival, D.C. United on the road. They'll then return to Bobby Dodd Stadium this weekend to face the Colorado Rapids.