CF Montreal-United FC Preview
Josef Martinez marked his first MLS start in over a year with a goal against Inter Miami, and the Atlanta United star has reflected on a tough road back to fitness.
Martinez – a star across his first three seasons with Atlanta – sustained a serious knee injury at the start of 2020 and missed all but one game last year.
He returned ahead of this season, though had to wait until the fourth game of the campaign to make his first league start, and he scored after just nine minutes as Atlanta drew 1-1 with Inter Miami.
In an interview with the man key to his recovery – Atlanta's head athletic trainer Mario Cruz – Martinez explained how tough it was to return to action.
"For four or six weeks, I couldn't walk, and also when I lost part of the muscle, that was one of the most difficult moments but we've had a lot," he said. "The first time I was able to touch a ball again. Another one was the first time I went back to training. That was the most rewarding.
"I remember I didn't feel capable of playing back to full strength, but for me the most rewarding moment was being able to come back to practice with the team. I would say 'it's not getting better, it's not getting better', and each day was a fight."
Atlanta face Eastern Conferences leaders CF Montreal on Saturday – the Canadian club having defeated Miami 2-0 in a strong display Wednesday.
"I don't know if it's the most successful, but the one I'm most proud of," Montreal coach Wilfried Nancy said. "We had a good first half, then we stopped. It was the first time I saw the team in pain, but given the context, it was beautiful to see."
Atlanta United – Josef Martinez
Martinez was one of MLS' star players before his injury lay off, and with a first goal under his belt in 2021, the Venezuela forward will be hoping to hit the same heights and propel Atlanta towards a playoff run.
CF Montreal – Bjorn Johnsen
Johnsen got off the mark for his new team with a double to see off Miami, and revealed some harsh words from Nancy had inspired him.
On Monday, we spoke. He was direct in telling me the good and the bad," said the Norwegian. "There are things he wants to see me do and I was trying too hard. He wants me to relax and just do my job."
Montreal won the first meeting between these sides, 2-1, in Montreal in 2017, but Atlanta has won four of the five since (D1). Atlanta has won all three of their its matches against Montreal, outscoring them 8-2 in those games.
Martinez scored his first goal of the new season against Inter Miami last week, ending a four-match scoring drought. That four-match run without a goal equaled the longest regular season scoring drought of his career.
Atlanta has five points from their first four matches, the second fewest it has had four matches into a season. The Five Stripes had just two points after four matches in the 2019 season.
Montreal has collected eight points through its first five matches, the third-most it's collected at this stage of a season in club history (nine in 2016, 12 in 2013).
Montreal's 2-0 win at Inter Miami was its second clean sheet in its last three games. Montreal has not kept consecutive clean sheets since April 2019.
Updated May 14, 2021