Atlanta United star Josef Martinez headed to Inter Miami

Atlanta United forward Josef Martínez (7) during an MLS soccer match Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Josef Martinez, the 2018 MVP and centerpiece of Atlanta United’s rise to prominence in Major League Soccer, was released by the team on Wednesday and quickly signed a deal with Inter Miami.

The corresponding moves were not unexpected, given Martinez’s struggles last season under United coach Gonzalo Pineda.

Still, it was jarring news for Atlanta’s passionate fan base, which had adopted the 29-year-old Venezuelan as one of its own. He even had a large mural painted on a wall near Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

After three stellar seasons that included leading United to the MLS Cup championship in just its second year in the league, Martinez never seemed to regain that form following a knee injury in the 2020 opener.

Now, he’s headed to South Florida.

“Josef has played a pivotal role in Atlanta United’s history, scoring memorable goals and hoisting multiple trophies for moments that will forever live with our supporters,” Atlanta technical director Carlos Bocanegra said. “He will always be part of Atlanta United and we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.”

Martinez had long expressed a desire to spend the rest of his career in Atlanta, even taking great pride in learning English so he would fit better in the community.

But the relationship with the club soured, so he’s eager to get a fresh start in Miami.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to represent Inter Miami and give the best of myself,” he said in a statement released before an introductory news conference. “This is a club with high aspirations and that aims to be amongst the best in the league. I hope to help the team achieve its objectives and leave my mark at the club.”

Martinez certainly left his mark in Atlanta, becoming the face of the expansion franchise after joining from Torino in Italy’s Serie A before the inaugural season in 2017.

He scored 19 goals in 20 matches that year, helping United reach the playoffs.

The 2018 season was even better. He scored a then-record 31 goals to win the MLS Golden Boot, was selected as the league’s MVP and celebrated again at the end of the campaign as United captured the MLS Cup before more than 70,000 fans in Atlanta.

Martínez followed with another big season in 2019, scoring 27 goals in MLS play and 33 goals across all competition, but United lost at home in the conference finals.

In the 2020 MLS opener, Martinez went down with a torn ACL that kept him out the rest of the year. Atlanta, meanwhile, went through turmoil in the coaching ranks, going through four managers in less than two years before Pineda was hired during the 2021 season.

He never seemed to mesh with the team’s biggest star, who was upset at being brought off the bench this past season. Martinez was even suspended for a week for what was described as conduct detrimental to the team.

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