Intent on salvaging the 2020 season even after a coaching change and without superstar forward Josef Martinez, Atlanta United made a pair of corresponding moves Friday by placing Martinez on the season-ending injured list and signing Mexican forward Erick "Cubo" Torres.
Placing Martinez on the season-ending injured list opens a senior roster spot for Atlanta, but creates no benefits in terms of the team's salary budget. They were able to fit Torres' budget charge (which has not been released) under the salary cap while Martinez's Designated Player charge ($612,500 on the cap, per MLS rules and regulations) remains. The club acquired a significant amount of allocation money in trades of Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel as well as the transfers of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Tito Villalba since last season, which should help offset the cost of Torres' undisclosed budget charge.
Of course, it also means there is officially no chance Martinez can return from his injury sooner than expected. He cannot play in any competition for Atlanta until next year.
The timing is important. It was all but sure that Martinez would miss the entirety of the season from the moment his torn ACL was diagnosed in the beginning of March, but Atlanta waited to put him on the season-ending list almost five months later.
Per a club source, Atlanta weren't sure they'd need another replacement. They already had Adam Jahn on the roster, signed JJ Williams and could play either Pity Martinez or Ezequiel Barco as a false nine.
At the MLS is Back Tournament, they started Jahn up top twice and had a midfielder playing false nine in the other match. They scored zero goals over the three losses and took an early exit. Changes would be required, starting with the club and head coach Frank de Boer mutually parting ways last week.
Cubo Torres MLS highlights
On Thursday, speaking with the media following the coaching change, Atlanta president Darren Eales alluded to potential additions.
"With our salary cap, there’s always way you can be creative," Eales said. "It’s difficult in a salary cap environment, but with a little bit of ingenuity we might be able to conjure something up. But it’s difficult.”
The club have also been linked with CF Monterrey's Mexican-American midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez.
Torres is a free agent, as well as a player familiar to MLS and a green card holder (meaning he won't occupy an international slot), so the deal makes sense. The former Mexico international scored 36 goals in 93 appearances between stints with Chivas USA and the Houston Dynamo between 2013-17 before heading back to Liga MX for the last two seasons.
Per Alison Mastrangelo of WSB TV, Torres will arrive in Atlanta over the coming days, enter mandatory quarantine and will require two negative COVID-19 tests before training with his new club.
The last time Atlanta took the field, de Boer was the coach and the club sputtering to three disappointing results. Whenever Atlanta next play an MLS match, they'll have interim head coach Stephen Glass as well as new players like Jurgen Damm and Torres to go alongside Pity, Barco, Matheus Rossetto and more.
Atlanta haven't given up on 2020 just yet.