The flashy Venezuelan striker and MLS’s bold southern powerhouse club are inextricably linked, but Frank de Boer and fans alike will have to embark on a new journey without him this season.
“Of course Josef brings something special in your team — his presence — and also for the opponent,” De Boer said ahead of his team’s home opener against FC Cincinnati Saturday (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). “He's a special player. We don't have him, but other players have to step up. I have confidence that we can still have a great team without Josef, but other players have to score goals instead of him, because we're losing a lot of goals.”
A lot of goals indeed. Since arriving from Torino in 2017, Martinez has scored at an astounding rate under two different managers with 90 goals in 103 appearances (100 starts) across all competitions for Atlanta. And since De Boer took the reins, the Dutch manager has only voluntarily pulled Josef out of a game four times in his 42 starts.
Which begs the question: How does De Boer keep Atlanta’s attack from turning sour without the one man who’s been a consistent source of scoring over the last three seasons?
“We all know what type of player Josef is. Obviously it's going to be difficult for our team with his absence, but I think we have other guys that are ready to step up,” Ezequiel Barco said through a translator Thursday. “I think everybody's ready to play if they're called upon. That's the good thing about this team. Our guys are ready and we need them.
“It's difficult, but it's up to guys like myself and Pity [Martinez] and other players in the attack. Hopefully we can score some goals on Saturday.”
Barco knows if Atlanta United are to achieve the goals the team set for itself prior to Josef’s injury, he and Pity Martinez will need to score far more than the eight the pair had between them last season. And in the short term, while backup Adam Jahn looks likely to play far more minutes than was originally, Jahn’s game may help the two Argentines do just that.
“He's also a guy who works very hard and tries to create spaces for other players,” De Boer said of Jahn. “He's a different type [of striker], but maybe other players can have more space because he makes unselfish runs for other players. That combination makes it so other players can contribute more in scoring goals.”
Speaking of unselfish, Barco said he and other teammates have been visiting Josef in his home this week as he waits for swelling to diminish prior before undergoing surgery. There, they sipped mates and played PlayStation, for no other reason than to enjoy the camaraderie and keep their injured teammate in good spirits.
“It's the toughest for him because he's the one going through everything. But we're all here for him. We want to help him get through this,” said Barco. “We just wanted to distract him a little bit from everything that he’s going through, and just to let him know that the players and all of Atlanta is with him.
“He's sad. It's difficult for any player to go through that kind of injury where you're going to be out for many months. But we're going to keep going over and seeing him just so he knows that he's not alone and we're all with him.”
In the meantime, De Boer and Atlanta’s front office has been busy trying to find a player to help mitigate the huge void left by Josef’s injury. The manager was reticent to mention specific names, but said the team would ideally like to bring in a player with similar characteristics to contrast with what they have in Jahn.
“We are looking very sharply to the market [to determine] which player is available that is suitable for us,” said de Boer. “But also, we have to deal with the salary cap, which is a great influence. All combined, it makes it not easy.
“We have Adam Jahn — a tall guy like a target man who wants to keep the ball at his feet and try to let people move around him. Josef is more straight forward to the goal, so we need more of that kind because if you have two weapons, you [don't want] two of the same kind of strikers… It's not so easy to find strikers like that. To replace Josef is a very big task.”