Cue the Lord of the Rings memes for The King has returned.
Josef Martínez trained with the team at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground on Tuesday. It was the striker’s first team activity in several weeks. Martínez has been absent from the team since April 8 when the club announced the striker underwent arthroscopic surgery to clean out debris in his right knee.
The team greeted Martínez with a welcome tunnel at the start of training. During the session, Martínez joined the group in conditioning drills. Then, he participated in rondos and passing drills before breaking off for some individual fitness. He returns on May 17, a little over six weeks from the last match he played on April 2 against D.C. United.
“Josef is a really important player for this team, obviously on the field and also off the field for the group,” defender Alan Franco said. “He’s an important player for us to have, so we’re very happy to have him back at training.”
Anticipation for the striker’s return began to grow last week when he was seen doing some individual work at the Training Ground. Then after the 2-2 draw with New England Revolution, head coach Gonzalo Pineda said that the club could have Martínez back “sooner rather than later.”
Prior to exiting the match against D.C. United in the 62nd minute, Martínez led the team in goals and was tied for team leader in assists. He was the first Atlanta United player this season to receive MLS Team of the Week honors for his Week 1 performance. In the home opener against Sporting Kansas City, he assisted two of Atlanta United’s three goals and played 75 minutes in the team’s 3-1 victory.
Martínez has had a prolific career with Atlanta United. The 28-year-old from Venezuela is the club’s all-time leading scorer. In 2018, he scored 31 goals to win the league’s Golden Boot award. That same year, he became the first-ever to win regular season, MLS Cup and MLS All-Star MVP all in the same season.
On March 2, 2020, Martínez tore his ACL and missed most of the 2020 season. Despite facing some setbacks during his rehabilitation, Martínez made a full recovery and appeared in his first match since the injury on April 17, 2021 against Orlando City.
Martínez went on to have a strong 2021 campaign. During the season, he became the fastest player to reach 100 goals in MLS history. He also played an important role in Atlanta’s run to the MLS Cup Playoffs. He scored the winning goal against FC Cincinnati that secured the club’s come-from-behind victory and Atlanta’s place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“Josef is a great player,” striker Ronaldo Cisneros said. “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.”
Although the two have faced each other on the field – both played in the scrimmage between Atlanta United and Chivas in the 2022 preseason – Cisneros has yet to play on the same side as Martínez since joining the club on loan from Chivas Guadalajara on March 21. Cisneros’s first game action with Atlanta United was on April 10 against Charlotte FC.
Still, Cisneros and Martínez are connected in several ways. They are two of only three players to score a hat trick for Atlanta United. Cisneros’s first-half hat trick against Chicago Fire FC on May 7 earned him MLS Player of the Week honors. The last Atlanta United player to win the award was Martínez in 2019.
So as the 17s eagerly await Martínez’s return, so does Cisneros as he looks forward to that opportunity to line up alongside one of the best scorers in MLS history.
“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.”