By Mike Rice.
Recent reports out of Atlanta United indicate we have seen Josef Martínez in the five stripes kits for the last time.
It’s been one hell of a season in Atlanta this year. Despite not making the playoffs, they have been the focus of media attention throughout the year.
Josef was suspended by the club for one game due to “conduct detrimental to the team” back in September and has been reported this season to tip over a table of catered food for the team, as well as a confrontation with head coach Gonzalo Pineda.
Prior to this season, Josef was a club legend in Atlanta, the face of the franchise and a player who before the season started said he would “be here infinitely”.
But now, Atlanta look set to move on from the striker who is the club’s all-time leading scorer with 111 goals and 17 assists in 158 games.
He does have one year left on his contract which includes a no-trade clause, which means he would have to agree upon any deal to move away from Atlanta.
A contract buyout is possible, he would then become a free agent and able to arrange his next move on his terms.
So, should Atlanta buy out Josef and he has the freedom to find the club of his choice, who are the likely candidates in MLS?
Cap room and Designated player spaces are being made available, especially with the retirement of Gonzalo Higuain making Miami a possible destination.
They are a side in need of a striker and, having qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs unexpectedly this season, there is determination to come back again and compete in 2023.
Leonardo Campana’s loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers has seen him signed permanently ahead of 2023, while Alejandro Pozuelo’s deal ends in December.
There is plenty of question marks around who will be in the front line for Inter Miami next season, but head coach Phill Neville has suggested to fans that plans are in place and DPs could be signed.
As we saw over and over in 2022, if Hany Mukhtar isn’t scoring then neither are Nashville. Their German DP was the league’s top scorer with 23 goals this year and carried his side to the Western Conference Playoffs, losing in the first round to LA Galaxy.
Aké Loba has been a bust for the team as a huge DP signing a year and a half ago, they need to move him on and bring in someone who will be able to provide goals to take the burden off Mukhtar.
Nashville move back to the Eastern Conference in 2023 and know they need to do become a more dangerous side across the team in attack.
Josef’s injury history may concern them considering the deal he may be looking for, especially when they need to get the right striker in to quell any frustrations fans are having with the recruitment.
Kei Kamara is not getting any younger, even if he refuses to, while it appears Romell Quioto’s future is unclear and Mason Toye struggled to make an impact in 2022.
The club are losing Djordje Mihailovic who already agreed a move to AZ Alkmaar earlier this year, while Ismaël Koné and Victor Wanyama could also be moving on — just speculation at the moment for both players.
Montréal will be in need of reinforcements and, especially, goals. Martinez could surely provide this should the option be available. Whether he is the right fit for the club or not remains to be seen.
A lot of teams in the Eastern Conference could really do with a centre forward!
Chicago brought in Kacper Przbylko from Philadelphia Union at the start of 2022 and it really hasn’t worked out. He managed five goals in a low-scoring side but it was 18-year-old Jhon Durán who led the team with eight.
Moving on from Przbylko and adding Martinez could give them more bite in the final third while also being good for aiding Durán’s rapid development.
They have plenty of potential around the centre forward in 2023, with the likes of Chris Mueller and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Heading into the CONCACAF Champions League next season, the Whitecaps managed just 40 goals in MLS this season. They were the lowest scorers in the Western Conference and only DC United (36) and Chicago Fire (39) scored less.
No deal has been announced yet for striker Lucas Cavallini, which would open space for the salary demands of a player like Martinez.
Cavallini was the top scorer in 2022 for the Whitecaps with nine while their other DP, Ryan Gauld, managed eight. Vancouver’s second centre forward, Brian White could only reach four for the season.
Adding a player with Martinez’s experience and quality in front of goal would add to a roster which is slowly improving and in need of some depth. He could be a fun addition to the side and a big help in their CCL campaign in 2023.
A couple of long shots, unrealistic but wouldn’t-it-be-fun-if-it-happened teams include Toronto FC. Why not add Martinez with Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi? Why worry about defending with these three leading the line? And Orlando City could do with some more depth up front.