Atlanta United has enjoyed great success in the club’s first three years of existence. The story of 2017 was Atlanta United sending waves through American soccer and exemplifying how expansion teams should come into the league. Atlanta continued to build on its inaugural season in 2018 and achieved the pinnacle of American soccer by winning MLS Cup, an impressive feat for a second-year expansion side.
The transition from 2018 to 2019 was difficult for many to handle due to the departures of Miguel Almiron and Gerardo Martino, but the core group of players that had led Atlanta United to the top remained with the club.
That trend ended prior to the 2020 season, and Atlanta United looks like a completely different team. That shouldn’t be a surprise, though. Such is the nature of sport. Players and coaches come and go every season. In a world full of change and transition, constants are difficult to come by.
Atlanta United does have a few constants, however: trophies, passionate fans coming out in the thousands on a regular basis, a strong connection between the fanbase and the club’s front office, and Josef Martinez scoring goals.
The last one is intertwined with Atlanta United’s success, and for the first time in its four-year history, Atlanta United cannot rely on the one constant that everyone thought would always be present.
Josef is already an Atlanta sports icon and rightly so. The Venezuelan Viper has an astonishing record of 86 goals in 91 appearances for Atlanta United and has won a plethora of individual trophies for his efforts. There is even a mural of Josef in Atlanta, and many fans are calling for Atlanta United to build a statue of him.
It goes further than just on the field in Atlanta. Josef is the face of the league and has commanded respect from everyone in MLS for his achievements. Off the field, Josef has expressed how happy he is in Atlanta on numerous occasions. He backed that sentiment by signing a five-year contract extension that will keep him here through 2023.
Josef’s stature and all he has achieved explains why news of his ACL injury during Atlanta United’s league opener against Nashville SC sent shockwaves through the entire league.
Atlanta United is poised to venture into trulyuncharted territory for the first time. The roster overhaul and parting with players that had been with Atlanta from the beginning scared fans prior to the beginning of the season. But a season without Josef? Nobody ever would have thought that would happen so soon.
There isn’t a time table on Josef’s return to action, and he has not yet undergone surgery. It’s extremely likely that Atlanta United will play the entirety of this season without Josef stepping on the field again. The striker is a long term investment, and there is no chance that the front office will risk his long term health and value by rushing him back to the field.
The one constant that Atlanta United could rely on is now gone under the worst of circumstances. How will Atlanta United cope without its star player and all-time leading goal scorer?
Replacing Josef’s goals will be nearly impossible. Other players will need to step up and attempt to fill the void. Atlanta’s two other designated players—Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco, who are coming off of disappointing seasons for their own reasons, will undoubtedly be looked at as the leaders of the attack in Josef’s absence. Both players have the potential to make the jump to a club in Europe after this season, so now is the time to prove they can raise their game and help this Atlanta United team have a successful season.
At the other end of the field, the defense cannot concede goals. Of course, this is unavoidable in soccer. Mistakes are bound to happen. Atlanta will need to focus on reducing the amount of chances it gives its opponents because Josef won’t be there to bail the rest of the team out.
Other than that, there isn’t much Atlanta United can do about this situation. Players may come in to fill the void, but the irreplaceable is just that: irreplaceable.