New reports have surfaced from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Doug Roberson claiming that Josef Martinez will be sidelined “several weeks”, a timetable that would put the star striker in contention to return during the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, sending the fans of Atlanta United into a panic and bookmakers offering the best odds rushing all the way to the bank.
Following Roberson’s report, Atlanta head coach Frank de Boer updated the media on Martinez’s condition at Atlanta’s Monday morning training session, though didn’t offer a specific timetable.
FdB on Josef:
– Ligaments are looking okay
– Injury is to knee AND ankle
– He is on crutches #ATLUTD
— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) September 23, 2019
But ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman gave Atlanta fans some reason for optimism about Martinez’s situation on Sunday, as he tweeted out the following:
— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) September 22, 2019
Twellman subsequently discussed the matter at halftime during the broadcast of the Portland Timbers-Minnesota United broadcast on ESPN, adding that Atlanta United believe Martinez injury isn’t as serious, but they’re waiting for the test results which will be done after the pain reduces. This news means that Martinez will only be available for the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs kick off on October 19.
Josef Martinez was stretchered off in the 79th minute during Atlanta United’s 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday following an awkward landing after a collision in the second half. While it appeared to be a knee injury, Atlanta United head coach Frank de Boer said the team would likely learn more in evaluating the star striker Sunday.
De Boer was optimistic despite there not being an initial diagnosis, and he put a challenge out to his other players.
“First of all we have to wait, but I’m in soccer so long now other players would have to step up in that moment,” De Boer said. “If he’s out for one or two games or more then other players have to stand up. That’s what they’re training for – to step in. And I warn them every time, every moment – be patient, your chance will come. But then you have to be ready.
“Hopefully other people will stand up. I’m going to see which one will replace him if he’s injured. Hopefully, I don’t have to think about it,” De Boer added.
Atlanta United have three games remaining in the regular season. On Wednesday they will play away to NYCFC in a match that will be key for their season, but with Martinez out, who will take up the goalscoring responsibilities?
It is important to note that Josef Martinez is virtually irreplaceable. However, De Boer has a plethora of talents in attack – Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, Hector Villalba, Darlington Nagbe, Justin Meram, Emerson Hyndman and Julian Gressel – all waiting for their opportunity in the spotlight and will grab this opportunity by the scruff of the neck.
De Boer said in the interview that either Brandon Vazquez or Hector Villalba will likely replace Martinez. De Boer also all but ruled out an involvement for Ezequiel Barco who returned to training on Monday, saying his first minutes may come at the weekend instead.
What can De Boer do?
The simple solution in the short term would be to start Brandon Vazquez in Josef’s spot and keep everything the same. De Boer has shown great trust in the player and has used in him big games. However, there is the question of- whose answer is unconvincing – if Vazquez is up to leading the line for a team hoping to win MLS Cup.
The next option would be to give Villalba the start up front. However, Villalba hasn’t played striker yet this year and has not fully recovered from his last spell on the sidelines. Also, his direct style doesn’t make it a like-for-like tactical swap for De Boer. However, Villalba is an incredibly dangerous attacker. Analysts have noted that attackers of Atlanta United have played without bounds, especially in the second halves of all their games. They are left to figure it out, and if Villalba gets the nod, he will be very potent operating under these conditions.
Another option (which doesn’t quite feel right) is moving Pity Martinez to the centre. Pity does fit the mould of the kind of player De Boer wants in that position – dropping into the midfield, pulling defenders out, connecting with teammates driving forward – al traits of a ball-playing striker. The question of who does the work of Pity in his natural position becomes pertinent when considering this option.
There’s no easy way to replace the 2018 MLS MVP. But Atlanta have enough talent to compete for the MLS Cup, and Frank de Boer. He has solutions in front of him, he just needs to figure them out.
However, fans of the Five Stripes can take consolation in the fact that Josef Martinez will return stronger. Getting a few matches off, as long as the injury fully recovers, can be a good thing. Nobody wants to face a fresh, hungry Josef in that first-round playoff game, and this could benefit Atlanta eventually.