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Josef Martinez, Atlanta United part ways

The end of an era

SOCCER: DEC 08 MLS Cup - Portland Timbers at Atlanta United FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Atlanta United announced Wednesday the news that many have been dreading for months. The team’s one-time MLS MVP and golden boot winner is no longer a member of the team after a buyout of his contract. Josef will sign with Inter Miami.

Even though the news has been speculated for weeks with more hard reporting coming down in recent days, it’s still a shock to the system of Atlanta United fans, many of whom came to know the club by way of Martinez and his unique personality and flair on and off the field.

Martinez hit highs that were unseen in MLS prior to his arrival in Atlanta on loan from Torino. The Venezuelan scored 77 league goals in his first three seasons in MLS despite missing the better part of three months during the team’s charter season with a quad injury. But it wasn’t the goals alone that made Josef the legendary figure that he is and forever will be in Atlanta. His flair, bravado, and unique personal brand made him into a larger-than-life character. Back in those years, he almost felt indestructible — even facing death square in the eyes after almost being burned by the fire cannons set up at Bobby Dodd Stadium after mounting one after scoring.

But every man is fallible, and Josef’s story in Atlanta contains with it that tragic story as well, after coming excruciatingly close to returning to an MLS Cup Final in 2019 — a semifinal in which Josef played hurt and missed a crucial penalty — disaster truly struck in 2020. Martinez tore his ACL in the team’s first game of the season against Nashville SC. He had multiple complications and follow-up procedures to deal with infections, which not only delayed his return to playing at 100%, but also broke the mirage to reflect that he was indeed human after all.

His play on the field never fully recovered, scoring just 18 non-penalty goals in the last two seasons. And his return came with a noticeable slowdown physically. He was not as pacy, not as fit, not as demanding and not as reckless on the field as his admirers had grown to love. To make matters worse, he was a diminished player while taking up a Designated Player spot — something worth its weight in gold in MLS. Combine that with the fact that Martinez himself seemed to grow ever more unhappy during his final two seasons, it seemed that this break was always on the horizon.

And it is here. Josef Martinez no longer plays for Atlanta United.

We’ll have more on this story to reflect on Martinez’s legacy in Atlanta. We hope you do the same in the comments.