Josef Martinez - celebrating - happier times

For Atlanta United, sitting in 9th place in the Eastern Conference standings is not familiar territory. Since the expansion side’s inaugural year in 2017, they’ve never finished a regular season lower than 4th place.

After losing Designated Player Josef Martinez to an ACL tear during the first game of the season, Atlanta have struggled to find goals — scoring just 17 times in 16 matches.

The Five Stripes seemed to have turned things around as of late, though, getting two wins and a draw in their last five matches. They will host the New York Red Bulls on Saturday (6 pm ET | TV & Streaming) — who are hoping to bounce back from two consecutive losses.

In a pregame press conference on Friday, RBNY interim head coach Bradley Carnell said that with the 48-hour turnaround, they haven’t had much time to think about what Atlanta might do, but said the Red Bulls “come up with a game plan against Atlanta every time. And we know what to expect, whether it's Pity [Martinez], [Ezequiel] Barco, or now the new guy [Marcelino Moreno].”

But Carnell also admits that Atlanta just isn’t the same without Josef Martinez, calling the striker “a true ambassador for the game, and especially for them.”

“I don't think you just expect his footballing qualities to be the difference on the day,” Carnell said. “I think if you get to see his attitude and what he demands from his teammates … that's been his biggest contribution — holding people accountable. And I think when these teammates step on the field with him, whether it's in a training match or whether it's in a real game, you know you have to bring it because he's going to let you know if he doesn't get the ball. He's going to let you know.”

The interim head coach took over the Red Bulls on September 5, 2020 after the club parted ways with Chris Armas the day before. Under Carnell, RBNY has gone 3-4-0. On Tuesday, it was announced that the club has hired former Barnsley manager Gerhard Struber, but the Austrian won’t be taking charge any time soon due to the lengthy visa process.

Carnell said he had sent the new coach a message to welcome him to the club, but as far as a working relationship goes, there’s “nothing happening."

“If he reaches out in due course that will be when he's allowed to engage in contact with me, but we're excited to get him on board. The club has a vision and direction and then we can just get to working in a normal manner.”