Despite the four-month layoff, Atlanta United still will be without the services of top striker Josef Martinez due to injury. Pity Martinez and his Five Stripe teammates will look to fill the scoring void Saturday night when they play their first group match of the MLS Is Back tournament versus the New York Red Bulls.
Josef Martinez, who has accounted for a staggering 82 goal in 92 league and playoff matches since joining Atlanta United (2-0-0) in 2017, suffered a torn ACL in the opener versus Nashville SC in late February and is out for the season. Coach Frank de Boer, however, does have options at his disposal depending on his flexibility in formation and attack.
The most likely scenario is Atlanta utilizing a 4-2-3-1 set-up in which Pity Martinez will play a false nine as the lone attacker. That would allow Ezequiel Barco and Manuel Castro to operate on the wings, with Matheus Rosetto manning the pivot.
“In terms of my role, I don’t consider myself a star in the league,” Pity Martinez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m just another guy in the league. When I play well, I know I can help the team. “
The time off also has allowed Atlanta’s back four to get healthy, with left back Franco Escobar and center back Miles Robinson expected to be in de Boer’s first XI. It is also possible the Five Stripes could go with three center backs in a 3-4-2-1 set-up, with Robinson and Fernando Meza a key partnership.
Regardless of who is in the first XI, de Boer will be making full use of the five substitutes allowed in the stifling Orlando heat and humidity. The Dutch manager has also stressed the importance of picking up all three points in this match, noting, “It puts off a little bit of the pressure. With three points, you can lose a game and with the next game three points you can get through to the next round.”
The Red Bulls (1-0-1) claimed a win and a draw from their two matches before the pandemic, and in keeping with their theme of balanced scoring from 2019 – when 18 different players bulged the net – their four goals have come from four different players.
Additionally, Red Bulls talisman Sean Davis is looking forward to facing Atlanta, as the series has blossomed into a rivalry in recent seasons.
“When I think about our rivalry with Atlanta, it’s very authentic, it’s very real,” Davis told the league’s official website. “It wasn’t built before a game even started, it’s been all because the games have been so competitive, so demanding. There’s never a dull moment in the rivalry, so I think that there’s a strong foundation there; there’s a clash of styles.
“It’s hard to rank the rivalries because I do think we have other awesome match-ups when you think about New York City FC, but I do think Atlanta is up there. I think it’s a game that both teams really get up for, and both teams, as far as the players go, are really excited and pumped to play against each other.”
New York also has had the upper hand since Atlanta entered the MLS in 2017 and enters this match 5-1-2 all-time versus the Five Stripes including the playoffs. The 10-man Red Bulls edged United 1-0 at home in May 2019 before a 3-3 draw in Atlanta nearly two months later in which they rallied from 1-0 and 3-2 deficits, getting a point from Bradley Wright Phillips’ stoppage-time equalizer.
Danny Royer has proven a nuisance to the Five Stripes with four goals in their matchups. He scored in the draw in Atlanta and set up Tom Barlow’s winner at Red Bull Arena.