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Atlanta United: Josef Martinez ends drought, Garza injury update and more

Nov 11, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender Greg Garza (4) and forward Josef Martinez (7) celebrate after their win against New York City in the Eastern Conference semifinal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — Josef Martinez won the MLS Golden Boot and broke the league’s single season scoring record by tallying 31 goals across 34 contests. But in the last stretch of the season, the Venezuelan striker fell into a bit of a slump.

Entering Sunday’s contest, Martinez had scored just three times in his previous nine games. That included a four-match run from Sept. 22 through Oct. 21 when he didn’t score at all.

But Martinez scored twice Sunday, finding the back of the net on a penalty kick and then slotting home a second-half shot in a one-on-one situation with NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson. His second goal, made possible by an assist from Eric Remedi, was Martinez’s first non-penalty kick goal since Sept. 19.

Martinez didn’t speak with the media in the locker room after the game, waving off inquiries from at least two reporters, but his teammates seem to think he’s back to his old scoring ways and hope he continues his recent form through the rest of the playoffs.

“It’s tough sometimes,” Greg Garza said. “He’s only scored three goals in the last nine games, so, statistically speaking, he was below his average. But I think today he’s gotten that confidence back and we’re very happy for him. Hopefully he can keep that up through the rest of the playoffs.”

Added Michael Parkhurst: “None of us were really concerned about it. Strikers go through those type of moments. Most strikers go through that more often than Josef does. I guess that comes with when you set the all-time scoring record that you’re expected to score every game. That’s the pressure on Josef. It’s fantastic that he came out here and had a performance to remember. It wasn’t just the two goals. He fought for 90 minutes. He tracked back with the defense. He won balls in the air. He was very, very good for us.”

Martinez did speak to ESPN on the field immediately after the match and said the game against NYCFC was a matter of “life or death” for Atlanta United.

The striker is leaving Atlanta United this week for a brief spell with the Venezuelan national team. Martinez and his team will face Japan on Nov. 16 and will then battle Iran on Nov. 20.

Garza’s shoulder

Garza said after the match that his surgically-repaired shoulder “feels great.” Garza had surgery on his right shoulder in May after re-injuring it in a match against the Red Bulls. He missed more than four months of playing time, but has played in each of Atlanta’s last three matches.

After playing 62 minutes in Atlanta’s regular season finale, a 4-1 loss to Toronto FC, Garza has started and played a full 90 minutes in each of the club’s playoff games against NYCFC. In Sunday’s win, the 27-year-old left back tallied a shot, a clearance, a tackle and 18 completed passes.

Almiron, Tito called to Paraguay

Miguel Almiron and Hector “Tito” Villalba join Martinez and goalkeeper Brad Guzan as players who will be away from the Five Stripes for the next several days on national team duty.

The pair of attackers were called up to the Paraguayan national team for camp and a friendly against South Africa on Nov. 20. The game will be played at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, South Africa.

Almiron missed the last national team camp to deal with an injury and while Villalba attended the camp, he was injured during training and did not play in any games. Villalba is still looking for his first cap with Paraguay after switching his national affiliation from Argentina. Almiron has appeared in 12 games with Paraguay’s senior national team since 2015.

“The first thing is to make sure that all our guys that are going on international duty come back healthy. We have five players that are going away, so this week will be about making sure that they come back okay and that the guys that are staying are well rested,” Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino said Sunday through a translator.

Darlington Nagbe was also called up for national team duty with the United States, but withdrew on Monday. Atlanta United said that Nagbe suffered “low-grade left hamstring strain” on Sunday. He played 89 minutes before being subbed off for Kevin Kratz.

Quotes

Almiron on his free kick score: “I was talking with Josef right before, and the first idea was to do a 1-2, but then, I had confidence in myself, and luckily, it went in. I’ve scored one free kick before when I was younger with the academy at Cerro Porteño, but this one was a miracle.”

NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson on David Villa: “David is David. He has been tremendous for this club, there is no doubt about that. You understand in this sport, especially when you don’t achieve what you set out to, that change is inevitable. It is part of the business. Obviously, David has given us everything that he has. It has been tremendous for me to play with him over two seasons. Going forward I don’t really know what is going to happen.”

Parkhurst on playing for Martino: “Tata is the face of the team and the leader of the team. We definitely want to win a trophy for him. He’s been great for us over these two years. We put in a lot of work not only this year, but last year leading up to these games. We’re still getting better. I think that we can still play a little bit better. I think Tata continues to push us. It’s just an extra motivating factor. I think that we all want to win. We all want to be champions. That would be icing on the cake for him for sure.”

Martino on the “El Tata” tifo: “I’m very thankful for all the affection that the fans have showed me over these two years. It makes me very happy. I’ve been very involved with everything Atlanta United – with the players, the fans. It’s a beautiful acknowledgement that the Atlanta fans have shown me.”

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