Josef Martinez was not happy.
The Atlanta United striker was subbed out in the 77th minute of Sunday’s game at the New York Red Bulls. He had failed to record a shot. He pulled down his socks, ripped the pink tape off his calves and left it strewn on the field like confetti before he slowly walked to the sideline. He shook his head slightly before passing Gerardo Martino and his assistants and taking a seat on the bench.
The Five Stripes would go on to draw with New York, the fifth time this season that the team’s high-scoring offense was shut out, but the second time in three games.
Atlanta United will need Martinez at his bull’s-eye best when it hosts Toronto in the regular-season finale on Sunday because much is at stake. If it wins, and NYCFC draws or loses to Columbus, and Chicago draws or loses at Houston, Atlanta United will secure second place in the Eastern Conference. The top two teams earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
As Martino goes, so goes Atlanta United.
When he plays but doesn’t score, Atlanta United is 2-4-3.
When he plays and does score, Atlanta United is 9-0-1.
Martinez left the locker room before the media were given access after the game. Manager Gerardo Martino and his teammates seemed neither concerned that he hasn’t scored in his past two starts nor that he was obviously perturbed as he left the field.
“I mean, he’s scored 18 goals in 19 games,” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “That’s not bad. I think he’s in a good spot, like we are as a team. So, we should all play with the team. Obviously, he gets frustrated when he doesn’t score which is a good thing for a striker. I’m sure Tito would’ve liked to score as well today. We just have to keep working hard, keep working as a team and keep improving and we’ll be alright.”
Martinez and the rest of the team could benefit from the return of attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron, who has missed the past four games because of a hamstring injury. Almiron posted on social media Monday that he “is back.”
Almiron’s speed and vision could open defenses and give space for Martinez, who has scored one goal in his past 337 minutes, according to Matthew Doyle of MLSSoccer.com. It’s his longest drought this season. Martinez is still scoring 1.13 goals per 90 minutes, which would set a league record.
Martino simply answered “no” when asked if he was worried about his striker’s form. Martino pointed out that Martinez had a few good chances against the Red Bulls.
“It's not necessarily anything the Red Bulls did to defend him, but we just missed some chances today that we usually convert,” Martino said.
With no Almiron, defenses are giving Martinez very little room to run onto through balls in the past few games, but he has still found space. He freed himself and just missed a headed shot in the second half against the Red Bulls.
“There’s three central defenders, you know?” teammate Jeff Larentowicz said. “He’s one guy up front and I’m sure that’s what they’re trying to do — get around him. At the same time, there’s a couple times he had an opportunity in the box and reflexed it. It’s close, but that’s the life of a striker, a bounce here, a bounce there, you get a goal.”