Is Josef Martinez back? If this week's performances are any indication, the answer is resounding yes.
Still, it wasn't easy to get to that point.
Following a 2-1 Atlanta United loss to the Columbus Crew on May 28, Martinez — who had entered as a second-half sub for his first action since a knee procedure in April — provided a rather frank self-assessment of his 45-minute appearance, not that he's been lacking for candor during his decorated MLS career.
Fast forward to Sunday, though, and Atlanta fans have now been treated to two consecutive showings by the Venezuelan striker that suggest he may be closer to his pre-ACL form than ever.
After finding the scoresheet during Tuesday's 3-2 victory over Liga MX side C.F. Pachuca in the American Family Insurance Cup, Martinez assisted on a Luiz Araujo golazo inside of five minutes, while adding a well-taken strike of his own with less than 30 minutes remaining, as Atlanta took down 10-man Inter Miami CF 2-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
It was an important result for Atlanta, who hadn't won a match in the regular season since May 7, a 4-1 rout of Chicago Fire.
"Those were three points that we had been searching for a while," Martinez said after the match. "Today we played a game, maybe not the best, the important thing is little by little everyone is doing their job. And beyond the chemistry that there is, it also could be better, so little by little hopefully those of us in the attack can be better."
Toward the end of the match, Martinez appeared quite gassed, which is understandable for a player who hadn't seen a match out from start to finish in exactly three months.
"I have to get my rhythm because I was out for a long time, then after getting back to practically feeling good, to [had] another pause," he said. "Obviously, I’m feeling much better than before, so I think it helps the way the team is playing."
Martinez's knee procedure, coupled with an early-season hamstring injury for Araujo, Atlanta's big-ticket Designated Player signing from Lille in 2021, means that the two haven't had much time on the field together this year. Araujo, though, expressed hope that the chemistry between the two players, and the entire forward corps, will develop over time.
"Today, for each of us to score a goal and get an assist is great. But it’s not just us two, it’s all of our teammates who are doing a great job [like] Marcelino (Moreno), Ronaldo (Cisneros), and all the guys out there," Araujo said. "I think that relationship is going to grow the more we play together."
And that chemistry will prove important as Atlanta embark on a big three-match away swing against Toronto FC, the New York Red Bulls, and defending MLS Cup champion New York City FC — considering that they've won just once in seven trips away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium across all competitions (1W-5L-1D).
"We are going to continue to keep working for these three important games on the road that we have coming up," Araujo said. "I think we are improving, both offensively and defensively, so we just need to continue to try and get better."