When news surfaced Sunday evening that Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez suffered a torn right ACL during their season-opening win at Nashville SC, it came as a major blow to the Five Stripes' lofty ambitions in 2020.
As tough as it is for Atlanta to recover emotionally from losing the face of the franchise for an extended period of time, management will surely try to find someone to, at least partially, fill his scoring boots. That won’t be easy, since Martinez provided 77 goals and 11 assists through his first three seasons with Atlanta and won the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award in 2018.
Most major leagues around the world have already shut their transfer windows, making finding a suitable replacement incredibly difficult. Still, the Five Stripes have stepped firmly into "there are no bad ideas" territory, even if that player can’t be a Designated Player given Martinez, Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco already have that designation and placing Josef on the season-ending injury list doesn't free up one. The salary cap restrictions will be tight. Tom Bogert has more on Atlanta's cap/roster budget restrictions here.
As such, our short-notice suggestions for an emergency striker range from the fairly reasonable to wild swings.
The former Colombia ace has fallen out of favor with high-scoring Villarreal. He's made just two league starts since September, and could be ripe for a loan from a club that just added Paco Alcacer. And though now 33, he still has slick feet around the box, a decent aerial game and the ability to pull a rabbit out of his hat from long range.
While the Frenchman made a couple of Premier League starts in February, Chelsea boss Frank Lampard has sparingly used for him most of the season. The 33-year-old (who has been linked to MLS clubs in the past) runs out of contract this summer, so there's no great incentive for the Blues to cling to him tightly. Giroud remains a terrific aerial target, but that skill may not be as enticing to Atlanta as it was before supreme crosser Julian Gressel departed.
This is one of those tricky suggestions. Would Huntelaar be willing to leave Ajax during a title chase? And while Dusan Tadic can lead the line and their young strikers have started to contribute, would the Amsterdam side be willing to part with him? I don't know, and I don't know. What I am sure of is the 36-year-old is in the last six months of his deal, remains one of the smartest tactical strikers in the game and can score in a wide variety of ways.
Like Giroud, the former Saint Louis University star is on an expiring contract, has been linked with MLS before and is in the twilight of his career. It's quite a respectable twilight, though, as the 35-year-old struck for 10 Bundesliga goals last campaign. Hertha Berlin would probably be willing to part with Ibisevic, as they added a pair of expensive strikers during the winter window.
Fernando Karanga/Henrique Dourado
My patented cheap pick spotlights a pair of Henan Jianye FC teammates. The Chinese club will probably need to shed one of their foreign players due to a recent tightening of roster restrictions, and both strikers have deals that run out this year. The 28-year-old Karanga, the very definition of a power forward, has been the more prolific of the two in recent seasons.
The 30-year-old Henrique Dorado (who has yet to even be registered for the forthcoming Super League season) actually shares some of Martinez's predatory instincts around the area. He also has a rather bizarre spot kick run-up, but unlike Martinez, has yet to miss while using it in his career.
I stumped for someone to lure this bullish Haiti striker following last summer's Gold Cup. Since then, his situation at Sint-Truiden hasn’t improved. For some reason, the goal-shy Belgian side haven’t even dressed Nazon for a competitive match this term (though he did score in a friendly two weeks ago). The 25-year-old could likely be had for cheap or on a loan deal, and then provide decent value for either transaction.
The Venezuelan striker has had no trouble settling in with Dalian Professional, but manager Rafa Benitez has pushed the club up against China's new roster limits by adding a couple of foreign players this winter. It might quickly come to nothing, but it certainly can't hurt to inquire about Martinez's international teammate. After all, he nearly left for Manchester United in January. The 30-year-old is arguably the best player listed here as of right now, with a bag of skills large enough to match his physical prowess.
The US Olympic team hopeful appears to be one of the easier transfer targets in this bunch, but is also by far the least experienced (and there is a catch to bringing him back to MLS). The 19-year-old California native has been virtually persona non grata at Hannover 96 this season, but that has nothing to do with his talent. The manager is merely ticked that Soto won't sign to extend his contract past this summer's expiration date.
However, Soto came through the Real Salt Lake academy and the team still holds his Homegrown rights, so any move back to MLS would have to go through RSL, who could ask for a lot in return.
Sturridge was let out of his Trabzonspor contract on Monday, but then news quickly surfaced that 30-year-old is banned from all competition until June 2020 due to gambling issues. Odds are that Atlanta can’t wait that long, even if he managed seven goals and four helpers for the Turkish club. Plus, there’s some injury history that comes with Sturridge’s services.