Desperately needing a result to shift the focus away from off-field controversy involving manager Gabriel Heinze and star forward Josef Martinez, the Atlanta United host the New England Revolution on Saturday.
Heinze revealed this week that Martinez, the team’s all-time leading goal scorer, has been training away from the team — at Heinze’s request — since the Venezuelan player returned from Copa America. Previously, Martinez’s absence was attributed to fitness.
“It’s my decision that he train away from the team,” Heinze said Thursday. “He’ll continue to train on his own.”
Atlanta’s first-year manager would not specify the reason for his decision.
“I have my reasons and I’m very clear on those reasons,” he said.
Martinez has 79 MLS goals in five seasons with Atlanta (2-3-7, 13 points), including two this season after missing nearly all of 2020 with a torn ACL. Scoring one goal on just two shots in the run of play (his other goal came on a penalty kick), he has not looked as threatening in 2021 as in previous seasons.
Yet United don’t have a lot of other options, having scored only 13 goals across 11 games. Between injuries and international absences, Atlanta has 12 players listed as out or questionable on the injury report, not including Martinez.
Arguably their two best remaining attackers are unavailable, with Ezequiel Barco at the Olympics with Argentina and Santiago Sosa serving a yellow card suspension.
Ironically, a visit from Eastern Conference-leading New England (7-3-3, 24 points) might be the best thing for Atlanta given the Revolution’s current form.
The Revs have allowed multiple goals in five consecutive matches, and are winless in their last three contests, most recently losing to last-place Toronto 3-2 FC on July 7.
U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner and Canada forward Tajon Buchanan are also away at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
But manager Bruce Arena isn’t overly concerned about his side’s recent defensive struggles.
“If I look back at the previous games you’re referring to, there’s just some strange plays that resulted in goals against,” Arena said. “We look like the Three Stooges at times. But those are things that we can correct. We’ve talked about it and we’re working on it.”
–Field Level Media
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