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On Josef Martinez, and what’s next for Atlanta United

Saying a final goodbye to a club legend.

SOCCER: FEB 25 Concacaf Champions League - Motagua at Atlanta United Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well, that’s it.

Let the record show that the Josef Martinez era in Atlanta United officially ended on January 18, 2023. The weather in Atlanta: overcast and foggy, probably a metaphor for the Five Stripes’ future without its iconic, but enigmatic, striker. We knew it was coming, but as Joe wrote, it still feels like a shock to the system.

But let’s briefly turn the clock back to February 2017, if we may, before taking a look at what’s next. Martinez, then a few months short of his 24th birthday, was already in his 8th professional season, and 11 matches into his 3rd season with Torino before the Serie A outfit loaned him to Atlanta.

Needless to say, that was a good bit of business for Atlanta United.

I won’t go over every single achievement Martinez reached here because we know the full story. And I also won’t go into the arroz y pollo incident in Portland because, well, that’s been well documented.

But this truly feels like Atlanta United 2.0, doesn’t it?

Sure, Brad Guzan is still here (and, by all accounts, 2023 could mark his farewell tour), and Miles Robinson hopefully will stick around for a little while longer. But one look at the 2018 senior roster will reveal that every single player on that team save the 2 I just mentioned are gone. Martinez’s departure for Inter Miami CF, who have their own lofty ambitions, seems to be the final page of the book.

As far as whose fault it was? Let’s be clear: neither side can be fully absolved of blame. Martinez, for everything he’s done for Atlanta United, hasn’t exactly modeled the perfect relationship between player and his coach/front office. The front office, for its part, should have done a much, much better job with how it handled Martinez’s future with the club.

At the end of the day, the bridge was burned (napalmed? obliterated?), setting into motion the events of Wednesday. A man that once called Atlanta “my Barcelona” and aspired to play the rest of his career in the city is no longer here, just like that.

So what’s next for Atlanta United?

First off, there will never be a player like Martinez. Whoever the club brings in to fill his massive shoes...well, strike that. No one’s filling those shoes. And it’d be foolish to think that. While the next man up will always be playing in Martinez’s shadow, patience (I know, I know) is key as there’s going to be an adjustment period with a new club. I could be wrong, and (insert future Atlanta United striker’s name here) could light it up from the moment he steps onto the pitch, but in the more likely chance that he doesn’t, that doesn’t spell “automatic failure”.

What about the club itself? The departure of Josef Martinez is a watershed moment, his exit means the loss of massive goodwill toward the club and the final straw in an increasingly complicated relationship between it and a number of its fans. Some may never return to an Atlanta United match for the foreseeable future or, at the very least, may not follow the club as closely as they did over its first 2 years. That said, Atlanta United must find a way to restore excitement and ignite its fans, and while the mantra has been to win as many trophies as possible, it truly is “put up or shut up” time.

Josef Martinez will forever be an icon in Atlanta United, and Atlanta sports history. It’s truly a shame things had to end this way. And while Atlanta fans will always have memories of everything he’s done, let’s hope more good memories are ahead and that the club’s best days are ahead.

Thanks for everything, Josef.