Atlanta United

Gonzalo Pineda confirms Josef Martinez substitution was precautionary

Chris Smith
Martinez was withdrawn just before half-time in Atlanta United's 2-1 defeat to CF Montreal.
Martinez was withdrawn just before half-time in Atlanta United's 2-1 defeat to CF Montreal. / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzalo Pineda revealed that his decision to substitute Josef Martinez against CF Montreal on Saturday was precautionary, but admitted that the striker will need assessing.

After recovering from an ACL injury that kept him sidelined for the whole of 2020, Martinez has regained his form, scoring eight goals in his previous nine appearances prior to Saturday night.

Pineda has been careful in managing the 27-year-old's minutes, often substituting him relatively early in games or resting him altogether. Martinez has also been spotted with an ice pack on his knee at the end of matches.

Shortly before half-time in United's 2-1 defeat away at Montreal, Martinez could be seen holding his leg while it was clearly uncomfortable for him to run. The Venezuela international didn't emerge for the second half, being replaced by Luiz Araujo at the break.

Speaking to reporters after the match, Pineda revealed Martinez felt some "tightness" in his hamstring and that he will be assessed ahead of the Five Stripes' trip to Toronto FC next weekend.

"He was feeling some tightness in his hamstring and we were just trying to prevent something," he said. "We will have to assess him. They will do a check on him.”

Martinez's withdrawal didn't initially appear to affect Atlanta. They took the lead in the 48th minute via Jake Mulraney, who was set free behind the Montreal defence by a superb Araujo through ball.

However, as the game wore on, the Five Stripes struggled to break Montreal down, with their previously purposeful possession becoming stagnant and predictable.

Understandably, questions will once again be asked of Atlanta's offensive credentials without Martinez. Pineda dismissed these concerns, insisting his side are creating enough but just need to be sharper in front of goal.

“No, I don’t feel any limitation at all," he said. "We have a great roster. We are creating enough chances. Obviously, there are moments in the season, like when we scored 10 goals in three games, nobody said anything about that (limitation of the roster). Just because we haven’t scored many goals, we are now talking about this.

"The main part for me is always creating more and better chances. For me, it is then just probabilities that we will score more. At times, we aren’t sharp enough in front of goal and missing chances. We need to be clinical. That happens all over the world, it’s part of the game. My job is to prepare the team to create more chances, but also work more on the finishing. So maybe, that’s a focus in training more. But in terms of my roster, I’m very proud of them.

"I have good options off the bench, you saw today when we subbed Josef at half-time, we scored a goal in the first few minutes of the second half. I felt that we could have scored a couple more. It’s all about being clinical in the boxes."

Right-back Brooks Lennon disagreed with his manager's assessment of the side without Martinez.

“When he’s not on the field, it’s a lot different than when he is just because of his quality and presence," Lennon responded when asked by reporters what it's like to play without Atlanta's star man.

"He makes those runs and he keeps those centre-backs in check when he’s in the game. When he’s out of the game, we have those creative players up top, but we don’t have that central force, especially when the ball gets wide, to be in the box."

Despite Saturday's defeat and dropping to eighth, the Five Stripes remain level on points with the two sides above them and just three adrift of Orlando City in third in a tightly-packed Eastern Conference playoff race.