Pain. Sadness. Frustration. All are emotions Atlanta United fans would never have applied to Josef Martinez scoring his 100th MLS goal just five months ago. But times change and Josef now wears a pink jersey, resides in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, and plays in a stadium without a roof.
For the record, Atlanta United moving on from Josef was the right thing to do. There will always be an argument about how it went down, but bringing on Giorgos Giakoumakis was likely the best long-term move in reference to Atlanta United’s attack. The current problem is that the team has to learn how to win without him, and on the road...consistently.
The match Saturday night against Josef’s new team, Inter Miami, had all the makings of Josef returning to goalscoring ways for the first time since his Atlanta United exit. It was destiny, apparently, in a way that was just incredibly heartbreaking to view in real time. Atlanta was mellow in the final third for most of the match, the midfield has been lacking the crispness fans saw earlier in the season, and Almada is slowly but surely being forced to play deeper and deeper to make up for the fact that he won’t often receive the ball otherwise.
It’s a worrisome trend that goes back to the match against Chicago; the football just hasn’t been great. When Gonzalo Pineda’s plan “A” i.e. the mostly prime starting XI are playing, the team looks like they’d give any MLS team a run for their money. But an effective Plan “B” just hasn’t been found yet. Is it a wholesale swap to something different, like a five-back system? Two strikers? Is it utilizing Luiz Araujo on the left or up top as the nine?
Who knows, but Saturday night’s match was another example of the team struggling to find cohesiveness. The first half admittedly saw Atlanta as the better side, edging out Miami by a slight margin, but it was in no way a convincing performance. The first twenty minutes saw both sides feeling each other out, but the half came and went with nothing of much substance.
It would be the moment Josef Martinez entered the pitch that would change the entire match. A corner had been given to Miami just before the subs were made, and Josef stepped on to take his usual spot at the near post. The subsequent ball in was recycled back to the top of the box, and a charging Machop Chol put a tad too much into the challenge and a penalty was given.
The rest is history.
Josef Martinez took the kick - his first touch of the ball against Atlanta United - and scored. Quentin Westberg chose the correct side on the PK and made a valiant effort, but he couldn’t quite get a finger to the ball.
Josef would then go on to score a second goal in the way Josef tends to simply find a way. The ball was played through to him after Andrew Gutman got beat coming toward the right side of the box, and Josef was able to get a foot on it with enough spin to slide it past Westberg and watch it slowly roll into the back of the net.
It’d be Andrew Gutman who would pull one back for Atlanta, however. Stoppage time approached and Miami drew a red card, and the Five Stripes put the pressure on to scrounge a result. An ensuing Brooks Lennon corner found Gutman at the near post, and he got enough bald head on it to slightly redirect it past the face of goal and into the far side netting.
It was too little, too late, though, as Atlanta finished the match down 2-1.
But hey, Atlanta United has now been involved in every single Josef Martinez regular season MLS goal from 1 to 100, so that’s something, right? Either way, jokes aside, congratulations Josef for hitting that wonderful mark.
Check out what Gonzalo Pineda and Andrew Gutman had to say after the match, and be sure to leave your comments below.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On the team’s current struggles and what he can do to fix it
“I think this was a different game. We created opportunities to get into the prime assist zones and into the final third. It’s a little bit of sharpness in the final third I would say that was missing tonight. I felt that we were dominating in possession, had territorial dominance. We were also getting into good areas to cross the ball or get the final pass in. But we weren’t sharp in that part of the field. That cost us a little bit of momentum. They get some momentum getting to halftime and they did a good job of having a solid middle block. But I felt that we were creative in our final attack, but the final pass, final movement is not there. We need to continue to work on that. Then the circumstances of the game. I don’t think they created a lot of chances from the run of play, but they get a penalty. There was a handball in the first half that wasn’t called a penalty, I don’t know if it was one or not. But those things change the games. They were solid in the middle block, they got to second balls and then it was uphill (after the penalty). But still, the team had good fight until the end. We scored that goal and had opportunities to score a second goal late. But we will continue to work on the final third and improve.”
On if he has any concern the players are losing confidence
“No, I don’t think it was lack of confidence. I think it’s final third decision making. Maybe being in a rush at times because they are trying so hard to score goals. It seems they are in a rush in the final third and we need to slow down a bit in those situations. But I felt today that we played good for many moments of the game. It’s just that lack of ability to produce a bit higher quality in the final third.”
On if tonight’s match felt similar to Nashville last week
“No, I felt that tonight was different than Nashville. I feel that tonight we got into better spots. It was just shots from outside of the box for Miami in the final 15 minutes of first half. Yes, they have a couple of chances, but nothing major. I felt that we created better opportunities, but we just didn’t connect on that final pass.”
On the midfield pairing of Amar Sejdic and Santiago Sosa
“It worked pretty good. The first half we had many good options in terms of distribution, how to break them down. We did a lot of good things with that pairing. Of course there are little things we can do better. I thought Derrick (Etienne Jr.) on the right side did some good things getting into the pockets. From there it was just lacking a little bit those runs in behind, but I felt that we were breaking them down quite well. That pairing was moving the ball well from side to side. We had a couple areas where we were dominating in the first half, both of them did a good job putting passes into our attacking players.
Atlanta United defender Andrew Gutman
On how to get that sharpness from the beginning of the season back
“I think it’s just getting back to the basics in training. It’s a long season. There are dips in every season, highs and lows, you just have to ride it out. You have to stay mentally strong and stay together as a team. We will get it right and start winning games again.”
On the attack at times looking static
“I think it’s a bit of both. We need to be more willing to run in behind the defense but also more willing to play the ball in behind. Also every team sits in on us. They know we want to possess the ball. It’s also on us to figure out how to make those runs in behind when teams sit deep on us.”
On the team’s injuries, especially in attack
“Yeah, I mean GG (Giorgos Giakoumakis) is a fantastic player. We’ve all seen that when he’s healthy, there is no hiding that. But just because he’s out doesn’t mean that it should change that much. I think Chop (Machop Chol) has been doing a lot of the dirty work. When Luiz (Araujo) came in, he gave whatever he could give tonight dealing with that little knock. Like I said, we just have to ride it out a little bit and not dwell on it too much. Go back and watch film, train hard and understand each other better and we’ll get three points next week.”
Be sure to check out our post-match Spaces show, as well! It was a busy one; everyone is going to have their opinions about such a historic match, so go give it a listen!