MILFORD, Ohio — The ACL injury to Josef Martinez has prompted many across MLS to reflect on the type of player Atlanta United likely just lost for the season. Just ask Martinez's former teammates Brandon Vazquez and Greg Garza, now together at FC Cincinnati.
Vazquez, a former understudy to Josef and now figuring prominently for FCC, called Martinez "a cougar" due to the way he hunts for goals.
Garza, meanwhile, took to the seas for his own animal kingdom comparison: "I've always said he's like a killer shark. When there's a moment or opportunity in a little space, he just takes it. It's something he prided himself on doing constantly the last few years.
That's high praise from the FCC defender, who's now tasked with slowing down a Josef-less Atlanta side this Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada).
SeatGeek has great deals for future MLS matchesGET TICKETS Official Ticketing Partner of Major League Soccer
Garza called Martinez one of his closest friends during his time at Atlanta.
"I called him that night right after the game in the hospital," he said. "And I called him the next day and the day after that. He's one of my really good friends; him, Michael Parkhurst and Darlington Nagbe were my three closest friends in Atlanta."
But he's not just supporting a close friend. Garza has navigated his fair share of tough-luck injuries, and knows the long road ahead for Josef.
"It's a place I've been before, so I'm giving advice and calming what's going through his mind," said Garza. "I've been in those same shoes. I want to offer my knowledge and hopefully he comes back stronger."
"You can't replace someone of Josef's quality," he added. "I think he's the No. 9 within this league, and probably all of North and South America at the moment. But at the same time, they're still a very dangerous team. They won't change their style of play. They're intense and very good in tight spaces."
Interim head coach Yoann Damet echoed Garza's sentiment.
"Atlanta is going to be different, but they're going to play the same way," Damet said. "They have a clear plan and I'm expecting the same type of game. Josef has a different profile than Adam Jahn and we expect some differences, but the overall playing style of the team won't change."
Damet was coy when asked if FCC is preparing for Jahn up top or for Pity Martinez to sit as a false nine.
"They have different options," said Damet. "I'm not with Frank De Boer, so it's difficult for me to say. At the end of the Nashville game they showed they wanted to give the opportunity to Jahn to play upfront. That's one option. But they're also playing in Concacaf Champions League in the coming days, so they'll have to think about that as well."
Planning for the unexpected doesn't bother Damet.
"It's always fun to prepare and study the opponent," he noted. "We know he was a big part of their playing style, but it's always exciting to prepare for these types of games."