Atlanta United’s 2020 campaign was full of disappointment, but none more painful than what happened in the 69th minute of the Five Stripes’ season-opening visit to Nashville SC. Atlanta’s beloved Venezuelan striker went down an ACL tear that would rule him out of the rest of the season and United never looked the same since.
Games Played: 3 (3 starts)
What went right this season?
Josef started the season on fire, notching two goals and assists in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 match-up with CD Motagua. He linked up with Pity Martinez especially well, providing the helpers for both of the Argentine’s goals in the second leg while Pity returned the favor with assists on both of Josef’s goals. That electric form from both South Americans did not last long, to say the least, but it was enjoyable while it lasted.
While missing out on a whole season of Josef goals (he could have crested 100 MLS goals if he kept up at his current rate) is a tough pill to swallow, for Josef more than anyone, if there was one season to miss, it was this one. Even Josef wouldn’t have been able to keep the Five Stripes afloat in 2020 and the lack of service in the final third wouldn’t have improved much even if it was Romelu Lukaku lining up at the point of Atlanta’s attack. Perhaps the only silver lining of Josef’s absence was that it ripped the paper over the cracks of the problems from Frank de Boer’s leadership and accelerated the Dutchman’s exit.
What does he need to improve on?
As always with an ACL injury, there’s no telling what version of the past player will return. Josef’s determination and mentality have only grown stronger but whether he’ll be the same physically remains to be seen. Nicolo Zaniolo, for example, returned from a six-month absence only to suffer the same injury on his other knee. While that’s not a scenario we should expect at all, keeping in mind that Josef may not be up to speed right away. A good roster build will help offset that, though, and take some of the goalscoring burden off Josef’s shoulders until he’s 100%. Still, a fully fit Josef Martinez who hasn’t scored in over a year is probably giving MLS defenders nightmares already and that time will come soon enough.
What role will he play in 2021?
Josef will return to a very different team than that of which was on the pitch at Nissan Stadium in February. Frank de Boer will be long gone, Pity Martinez is in Saudi Arabia, and who knows where Ezequiel Barco will find himself in three months' time. Instead, Josef will be combining with the likes of Jurgen Damm, Marcelino Moreno, and perhaps an almost entirely changed Five Stripes attack. What won’t change is the 27-year-old’s role on the pitch. No matter who the manager is (Heinze please) Josef shouldn’t have too much competition from Adam Jahn for the starting striker spot. The dreams of a Moreno-Josef combination is something for Five Stripes faithful to keep ahold of for the next three months. At least, that’s what I’ll be doing.