BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The last time Josef Martinez suited up for Atlanta United FC, the expansion club thrashed the Chicago Fire, 4-0, back on March 18. Atlanta didn’t get as good of a result on Saturday at Toyota Park, falling 2-0 to the Fire, but the visitors left with a bit of positive news as Martinez made his return from injury after more than two months out.
"He looked good, he was moving well, I don't think you're seeing any signs of his injury, he just needs more time to get back into rhythm,” Atlanta coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said after the match.
Martinez was in quite a groove before the injury.
The Venezuelan forward, signed as a Designated Player from Serie A club Torino, was shutout in United’s opener before proceeding to score a hat trick in the next match and two goals in the one after that. He had already earned Alcatel MLS Player of the Week and AT&T MLS Goal of the Week honors in his first three weeks in the league.
Then, while on international duty with Venezuela, Martinez suffered a left thigh injury during a March 24 World Cup qualifier against Peru. He missed the next 10 matches, with Atlanta United going 3-4-3 and scoring 17 goals over that stretch.
“I’m proud of the way the guys have been playing since I’ve been out, unfortunately we weren’t able to get the win today like we wanted to but we just have to lift our head up and keep working,” Martinez said through a translator.
On Saturday, Martinez entered in the 64th minute, replacing Jeff Larentowicz. Martino said he had a set number of minutes in mind for Martinez, regardless of the score or situation.
“I’m really happy because I have a lot of time out of the field, I wanted back, I want to win,” Martinez said. “Today it wasn’t possible but I think the next game hopefully we can win. So I am so happy but for the result.”
In his 26 minutes, Martinez couldn’t mount much with Atlanta trailing, but he did have a shot blocked, completed seven of eight passes and had a late shout for a penalty that was waved away by referee Alan Kelly.
“I felt good but my rhythm wasn’t up to the opponent or even my teammates today and hopefully in the coming days I’ll get that back,” Martinez said.
There will be plenty of opportunity for minutes as Atlanta plays Wednesday against Charleston Battery in the US Open Cup (7:30 pm ET | USSoccer.com) and then back in league play on Saturday against Columbus Crew SC (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE).
"Wednesday we'll see,” Martino said. “There's a chance that we will change it so he starts so he's able to play more minutes and start getting match fit. And then we'll take him off it in the second half."
Martinez said he didn’t mind whether his minutes were as a starter or off the bench.
“I need to play,” Martinez said. “I need to get back to the level I was playing at when I got injured. Hopefully it will be soon that I am able to get back to that level and help the team start winning games like they’ve been winning but like we were unable to do today.”
Teammate Julian Gressel said it has been easy to get Martinez back into the fold.
“It’s just him participating in practice again. It’s nice to have him out on the field again and around us, not just doing his own rehab stuff,” Gressel said. “It’s not like we don’t know how he plays anymore. It’ll be an easy and I think quick transition where he’ll get on the scoresheet pretty quickly again.”