Josef Martinez is starting tomorrow night.
2 months, 26 days, three hours and 30 minutes after starting in a 4-0 shellacking of Chicago – he scored twice to make it five goals in his first three games – Martinez will return to the starting lineup as the Five Stripes take on the Charleston Battery in US Open Cup play.
“At the time that’s the plan,” manager Tata Martino said through a translator Tuesday. “The other night he only played 25, 28 minutes, so we think by starting him we’ll be able to get more minutes and help get his rhythm back.”
Martinez is excited to be back but recognizes he’s not quite at full speed. He’s hoping Wednesday helps him get one step closer.
“There’s a few things I’m still working on. I can’t tell you exactly when I’ll be 100% or 150%,” Martinez said. “I still have a ways to go. I just started training with the team two weeks ago, so I’m not back to the level I was at yet. The important thing for me is that in the game on Saturday is that I didn’t feel any pain. Unfortunately, the team didn’t get the result we wanted but tomorrow will be important for me going forward.”
It’s highly unlikely that Martinez goes the full 90 tomorrow. The training staff has erred on the side of caution throughout his rehab process and that philosophy appears to have been ingrained in Josef.
“I’ll play as many minutes as my body lets me. I want to play 200 minutes, but I have to go with whatever my body is telling me. Tomorrow is going to be important because I want to go out there and help the team, but I’m just going to have to see how I’m feeling,” Martinez said through a translator. “I can’t tell you exactly how many minutes I’ll be able to play but hopefully it’s a good amount and I’m able to help the team win.”
Meanwhile, Jeff Larentowicz confirmed that he would also be in tomorrow’s starting eleven. Larentowicz will play in his normal holding midfield role and will be a veteran presence on a team that may be the youngest side in Atlanta United history. Despite the possible inexperience of tomorrow’s side, Larentowicz’s night won’t be 90 minutes of babysitting.
“All the guys have been working every single day doing the exact same things the first team are doing. It will be second nature for them,” he said. “Obviously, if you’re not playing every week there’s going to be moments in the game where you’re not as mentally sharp. But the way they fit into the system is like for like and they’ve been training in it all year long.”
Larentowicz’s biggest task might be making sure that the team doesn’t take Charleston for granted. The Battery are on top of the USL’s Eastern Conference and have a chance to pull off a major upset.
“These guys are talented,” Larentowicz said. “Whenever you’re playing a lower division team, they’re going to come with a lot of energy and with a lot of fight and passion. You could say that this is probably going to feel like one of their biggest games of the year. And when you change the venue and you make it almost a neutral game, it creates a different level of excitement. It’s going to be a fun game to watch especially if you’re someone on the outside looking in.”