After a year away due to a torn ACL, Josef Martinez is still working his way back to 100% on the field. But his press conference form is already mid-season.
Martinez spoke with media on a virtual press conference Friday, taking questions on his rehab, return to training and plenty more, but nothing brings a smile to his face more than answering questions about rival Orlando City SC.
"The father is back," Martinez said with a buoyant smile.
Atlanta United open their MLS campaign on April 17 against Orlando. Martinez has seven goals in six games against the Lions, unbeaten in those matches, winning five. He scored his then-MLS single-season record 28th goal against Orlando in 2018, then a year later, he extended an MLS-record of goals in 12 consecutive appearances against the same opponent.
“Once the schedule was released with Orlando as the first game, I was getting comments on social media about it," Martinez said. "I’m working hard to get back to 100%, it’ll be up to the coaching staff. I’m ready for that game.”
Technical director Carlos Bocanegra told media a few weeks ago that Martinez is expected to be available for selection when the club opens Concacaf Champions League play on April 6 against Alajuelense.
Martinez suffered a torn ACL in Atlanta's opening MLS match of 2020 against Nashville SC, limiting his season to just 69 minutes. Atlanta cratered in his absence, failing to make the playoffs and struggling mightily to score goals, finding the net just 23 times in 23 games. That was second-worst in MLS.
It hasn't been an easy recovery for the former Landon Donovan MLS MVP, who said he needed five surgeries on his injured knee. The same surgeon who operated on Zlatan Ibrahimovic's knee took care of his procedures.
“It was a difficult path, the day-to-day was tough," Martinez said. "I cried at times, up until even last week when I was able to get on the field and play in the first scrimmage.”
Optimism is high surrounding the Five Stripes heading into 2021, led by Martinez's return. Rising Argentine manager Gabriel Heinze has been appointed head coach — someone Martinez endearingly said would "100% kill you" — to return the club's high-energy, attacking ethos of their first two seasons under Tata Martino. Highly talented midfielders Santiago Sosa and Franco Ibarra have headlined the reinforcements on the field as well.
“We’ll run a lot and we’ll fight a lot," Martinez said. "That’s it.”