Atlanta United's attack received a significant boost on Tuesday as striker Josef Martinez returned to training.
The Venezuela international has been sidelined since April 8 following surgery to clean out debris in his right knee - the same knee that suffered an ACL tear at the start of the 2020 season. But on Tuesday, Martinez took part in team conditioning and ball-playing drills before breaking off for an individual fitness session.
In Martinez's absence, Atlanta United have taken just five points from six MLS matches, scoring eight goals. The 28-year-old is an icon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium having scored 104 goals in 137 appearances (all comps) for the Five Stripes so far.
Though not as sharp as he once was, Martinez remains one of the most feared forwards in Major League Soccer and is capable of beating any goalkeeper on his day. The striker is also one of the biggest leaders on Gonzalo Pineda's roster, which has already seen fellow veterans Brad Guzan and Ozzie Alonso ruled out through ACL tears.
The importance of Martinez's return to an already-improving Atlanta forward line is not lost on his teammates.
“Josef is a really important player for this team, obviously on the field and also off the field for the group. He’s an important player for us to have, so we’re very happy to have him back at training," center-back Alan Franco said.
Fellow striker Ronaldo Cisneros - who is yet to share the pitch with Martinez - added: “Josef is a great player. He was named the best player in the league. I would dare to say that he’s the best player in the history of the club… he’s such an important player at this club, and hopefully I’ll get to play with him soon.”
Cisneros has been the man holding down the fort up-front for Atlanta in Martinez's absence, scoring four goals in six MLS appearances - including a hat-trick in a recent 4-1 win over the Chicago Fire.
The Mexican - on loan from Liga MX side Chivas until July 7 with an extension option through the 2022 season - is keen to learn as much as he can from Martinez now that they can line up alongside each other.
“I would like to learn from him,” Cisneros said. “He’s a player that has scored so many goals and is someone who I was watching even before I came to Atlanta, so to have the opportunity to work with him and be around him, I think I’ll be able to learn a lot.”
Atlanta United travel to southern rivals Nashville SC this weekend, just over a week since Gary Smith's side knocked them out of the US Open Cup with a 3-2 comeback win in extra-time.