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Heinze: Josef Martinez’s absence is coach’s decision, not fitness related

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Oh.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United head coach Gabriel Heinze dropped some stunning news when speaking to media in his pre-match press conference Thursday: Josef’s Martinez’s absence from the first team since returning from Copa America is not related to fitness.

It was initially thought that Martinez, who tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to quarantine and did not play in the tournament, was needing to rebuild fitness before reintegrating into the first team. He has reportedly been training by himself away from the team ever since and was not selected for Atlanta’s match against Nashville SC last Thursday.

Heinze said he’s clearly communicated the reason for this decision, but will not discuss it further with the media.

This suddenly feels like a dicey situation. It’s never a good sign when a player is training by himself, but one can understand if it’s for fitness reasons. Atlanta United fans are sure to remember the last time a player was reported to be training by himself (Julian Gressel), he was moved in a trade not long after.

It seems extremely unlikely that such a case would be similar with Martinez. For one, his market value is at probably at its lowest point since joining Atlanta in 2017 due to his knee injury from which he’s probably not yet 100 percent recovered. Martinez has also seemed to be quite content in Atlanta in the past after securing a new long-term contract in 2019. However, things change and this scenario can’t be entirely discounted.

From the context that we have, it seems more likely that this has something to do with discipline or some sort of team dynamic (and boy have we been through this situation as well), though Heinze is obviously playing his cards close to his chest.

This is an ongoing situation that will now have very close eyes watching.