Josef Martinez ATL

Josef Martinez is a bedrock figure at Atlanta United, but might a departure be in order after the 2022 MLS season?

That possibility was kicked around on Extratime’s latest episode, their debate arising from Wednesday’s news of the star striker being suspended for one game following a reported altercation with head coach Gonzalo Pineda.

The answer is rather clear in Charlie Davies’ eyes, saying “I don't expect him to be with Atlanta United next year” and “I would expect him to go” if another option arises for the 29-year-old Venezuelan international.

And Andrew Wiebe views it as the latest friction point surrounding a powerful figure whose goalscoring prowess derives fuel from on-field emotions.

“He's definitely had issues with every coach Atlanta United have had, that includes Tata [Martino],” Wiebe said, referencing their inaugural manager from a 2017 expansion season. “And Tata admitted that during the time, but he's like 'I love him, he's like a son to me. But are there sometimes issues? Yeah.'

“The reporting has been there have been sort of breaks with every coach. You could say that about Venezuela as well. There have been times he hasn't been with Venezuela. I don't know who to put that on, I'm just saying there has been sort of a history of conflict between Josef and head coaches, whether that be Frank de Boer, whether that be Gabriel Heinze who suspended him as well, and now of course Gonzalo Pineda.”

Is this the end of Josef Martinez at Atlanta United?

Davies said goals are typically a salve in these situations, and Martinez provided those in spades while winning 2018 Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors and helping bring the Five Stripes an MLS Cup trophy during their second-ever season.

But his production, stemming back to a torn ACL suffered in their 2020 season’s first game, has waned compared to the lofty standard he set while approaching the league’s esteemed 100-goal club (97g/16a in 133 games).

“If Josef is the problem, goals cover that problem up, right?,” Davies posited. “As long as you're producing, no matter who you are, where you are, what you do – I've seen it with my own damn eyes. If a striker is scoring goals, you can get away with anything, you can get away with things.

“… This statement always remains true: As soon as a goalscorer stops scoring goals and the results stop coming, guess who the fingers get pointed at first? Guess who's not allowed to get away with what they were able to get away with first? That striker.”

Trade destinations?

Martinez, one of three Designated Players in Atlanta alongside Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo, is under contract through the 2023 campaign. He’s previously championed for an extension with the club, saying “I want to die here,” and called the Five Stripes “my [FC] Barcelona” upon signing his contract extension in 2019.

Now, the possibility of a trade isn’t so far-fetched – even if Atlanta’s point of leverage perhaps isn’t most ideal when factoring in the injury history, locker-room tensions and more.

“An interesting one is Nashville,” said David Gass, adding Real Salt Lake as another possible destination. “He would fit fairly cleanly in the way they play up top and the way they put crosses in. Again, he doesn't want to drop in and get the ball at his feet and he's not going to change the game for you there.”

The Portland Timbers were kicked around as a landing point, too.

[Jaroslaw] Niezgoda has not been it, [Felipe] Mora has been injured,” Wiebe said. “When they're at their best, they do seem like a team that's going to play on that transition moment. Then do you have Sebastian Blanco still and Josef? That's two big high-upside, high-potential, maybe-not-going-to-work-out situations.”

Whatever the outcome, there are clear tensions that may prove difficult to resolve. And it’s the latest chapter in an injury-filled year as Atlanta still look to reclaim what made them so successful out of the gate, back when Martinez arrived as a young, hungry striker from Torino in Italy’s Serie A.

“Maybe as he and the club have been at odds, maybe that indicates a break between the club and what was the heart and soul,” Wiebe said. “They've got to rediscover that. It doesn't seem like it truly exists here and that's a big job for anybody, let alone for Josef Martinez as a single player. For the entire squad, for Gonzalo Pineda and his staff, for Carlos Bocanegra, for the entire staff.”

For more from Extratime, check out their latest episode here.