Josef Martinez walked off the field at Red Bull Arena fuming, Atlanta United’s talisman making his frustrations very clear with his angry reaction to being substituted out on a difficult afternoon.
It was a frustrating 77 minutes for one of the top strikers in Major League Soccer as Atlanta settled for a 0-0 result against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, a match that felt like a playoff game.
The stat line for Martinez wasn’t pretty: he didn’t register a single shot and or chance created in his time on the pitch, with only a scant handful of touches on the ball. After raining down nine goals in a six-game stretch in mid-September, Martinez hasn’t scored his last two appearances, with just a single shot on goal in that time.
It is arguably the coldest run the prolific Venezuelan has experienced in his first year in MLS, though Martinez’s teammate Julian Gressel isn’t concerned.
“He’s scored 18 goals in what, 19 games? I think he’s in a good spot,” said Gressel on Sunday, admitting that Martinez is frustrated, but asserting that the drought is no great surprise given how opposing teams focus on trying to stop the striker.
“Everybody has been paying more special attention to him; it makes sense,” Gressel said. “We still created a good amount of chances today. If you put a couple away you still might be able to win the game. It doesn’t always have to be a goal from Josef; he’s still dangerous.”
Martinez was the first one out of the Atlanta locker room following the match, and ignored calls from the media to stop for questions. Most of his teammates still hadn’t showered by the time Martinez had already departed.
When asked if he was concerned about his striker’s recent dip in form, Atlanta head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino shook his head.
“No,” he said. “Josef had two or three really clear chances. Usually he converts some of those.
“It’s not necessarily anything the Red Bulls did to defend him; but we just missed some chances today that we didn’t convert.”
In many ways, Atlanta United looked as dominant as they have been over the past two months, bouncing back from last week’s disappointing home loss to Minnesota with a road result that showcased both glamor and grit.
Despite failing to find a goal, they were clearly the better team in the first half, a Luis Robles miracle save on Yamil Asad’s point-blank header denying them from going up 1-0 in the sixth minute. The visitors won the 50-50 battles and second balls, sweeping forward and overlapping to pull apart the Red Bulls backline.
But in the second half, the expansion side instead had to show the grit they will need as the playoffs loom. It was gut-check time for a young group as the Red Bulls rebounded from their sluggish start and began clicking.
RBNY’s high press and counter-pressing tilted the field as they created several solid scoring chances. Atlanta were perhaps fortunate to earn a draw, a result that could have gone into the loss column but for a few big saves by goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
“It was an intense game, it was a good measuring-stick game for us,” Martino said. “That’s a game that would be a quarterfinal for us in the playoffs. We’ll see.”