Amid Atlanta United’s introduction to the MLS came an undeniable fact: it has found a star in Josef Martinez.
But now, the expansion club is going to have to learn to live without the league’s top scorer, announcing Tuesday that Martinez is out for four to six weeks with a left quad injury.
“Being in soccer for so many years you get used to the injuries,” manager Tata Martino said through an interpreter. “For us, at first it’s unfortunate, but as the same time we have to keep thinking about our team. We have players who are capable of substituting Josef.”
The 23-year-old forward was injured while playing 59 minutes for Venezuela in a 2-2 draw last Thursday against Peru in a World Cup qualifier.
Martinez has five goals on the season, including a hat trick in Minnesota in the franchise’s first win. His other two came in a victory over Chicago.
“It’s difficult,” said defender Tyrone Mears. “Josef has been great. We saw his talent in preseason. Personally, I knew he was going to score a lot of goals in this season. Certainly in this league, this conference, he’s one of the top strikers. He’s only had a few games, but he will definitely be considered that at the end of the season. I have no doubts about that.”
The process of replacing Martinez begins Friday against the Sounders and Martino said he hasn’t made a decision on who will fill Martinez’s role, and will wait until Kenwyne Jones (Trinidad and Tobago), Miquel Almiron (Paraguay) and Carlos Carmona (Chile) play in Cup qualifiers Tuesday night.
The bigger-bodied Brandon Vazquez — who is 6-foot-3 to Martinez’s 5-7 — could step in, but Atlanta United may not be able to simply locate a plug-and-play option given Martinez’s speed.
There’s the potential, per Martino, that Atlanta could use a “false nine,” a formation sans the traditional striker role that Martinez fills.
“He’s gonna be a big loss but we’ve got other players that can come in,” Mears said. “This squad’s really strong.”