NASHVILLE — Atlanta United FC’s 2020 season has just changed in a dramatic way.
The club announced Sunday that star striker Josef Martinez suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during the Five Stripes’ 2-1 win over Nashville SC on Saturday.
Martinez, 26, is arguably the best goal-scorer in Major League Soccer. In 103 appearances with Atlanta, the Venezuelan designated player has scored 90 goals. In 2018, he claimed the league’s MVP and Golden Boot awards while leading the club to an MLS Cup victory.
In a statement, the club wrote, “Martinez will undergo surgery on a date to be determined to begin the rehabilitation process.”
Martinez appeared to have initially suffered his injury in the 63rd minute when he and a Nashville defender banged into each other. Martinez came off the pitch and then returned, but then went down again in the 67th minute after defending a set piece and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. He was replaced in the match by Adam Jahn, who appeared in his first MLS match since 2018.
After the game, Martinez was seen exiting the Atlanta locker room with an air cast on his right leg and using crutches. He later needed a cart to carry him from the bowels of Nissan Stadium to the team bus.
“Josef doesn’t look really, really well right now, but I cannot say anything about it,” Atlanta manager Frank de Boer said Saturday night. “We have to examine him tomorrow in the hospital and get a good opinion about it.
“It’s going to be a big loss. … You don’t want to speculate, of course. You have to search for other solutions.”
Martinez arrived in Atlanta just before the start of its first MLS season in 2017, initially on-loan from Italian Serie A side Torino. The club eventually bought him outright, and then signed him to a five-year extension following his record-setting campaign in 2018.
Considering Jahn is the only other true striker on the roster, de Boer added he’ll ask the front office to add a forward to the team if Martinez is out for a prolonged stretch of time. That nightmare seems to be a reality now.
Atlanta has roster spots available, one of which is an international slot. However, attempting to replace the threat and production of Martinez will be nearly impossible to do.
“God-willing, it’s nothing serious and we’ll have him back for the next game,” Ezequiel Barco said of Martinez’s injury Saturday night through a translator. “But if he does have to be out, then some of our other teammates are going to have to step-up.”
Atlanta doesn’t have many options at striker outside of Jahn, a 6-foot-3 forward who scored 18 goals last season for Phoenix Rising FC of the USL Championship.
There’s no question that Jahn can score goals. However, his style is a bit different than Martinez’s. Jahn is a tall, target, hold-up striker and, unlike Martinez, he’s not someone who can drop back into the midfield and combine quick passes with the likes of Pity Martinez and Barco. It would be unlikely to see Jahn dish an assist to a teammate from outside of the penalty box.
If de Boer doesn’t start Jahn, or if the team doesn’t sign an additional striker, he could deploy Pity or Barco as a striker and add another midfielder to the formation — such as Matheus Rossetto or Manuel Castro, who are expected to join the team soon after having their visa issues resolved.
“Part of team sports, isn’t it? Next guy up,” Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “Laurence came on, was fantastic. Adam came on, was fantastic. It is what it is. That’s not our job to worry about.”
Martinez isn’t Atlanta United’s only injury issue. The club entered Saturday’s match without 2019 MLS Best XI selection Miles Robinson (quad), homegrown fullback George Bello (concussion) and veteran defender Edgar Castillo (ribs). Additionally, centerback Franco Escobar — who provided the assist on Barco’s ninth minute goal — exited the match against Nashville at halftime, walking with a noticeable limp.
The club has not yet released a prognosis for Escobar’s injury.
Heading into its second week of MLS play and the quarterfinals of Concacaf Champions League, the Five Stripes may have to get creative with their personnel and formations to deal with injuries that seem to be piling up like Jenga blocks.