ATLANTA -- Josef Martinez is back.
Atlanta United FC's star forward returned last Wednesday during the team's U.S. Open Cup victory against Charleston Battery, but Saturday was his first game back at Bobby Dodd Stadium since he injured his hamstring in March while playing for the Venezuelan national team.
Martinez came in for Julian Gressel in the 63 minute. Soon after, Miguel Almiron scored the team's go-ahead goal to make it 2-1. Then, just before stoppage time, Kevin Kratz stole the ball away near the Columbus' box and passed it to Martinez. He shot it right over Zack Steffen for the goal.
The team huddled around him in a moment that was more emotional than most realize.
"After the goal I scored, I was a little emotional," Martinez said through a translator. "Especially because before I came on, I heard all the fans applauding me and chanting my name. But I'm happy to get the goal tonight and I'm also happy for the work my team is doing."
It was Martinez's sixth goal of the season after scoring five goals in three games to start the MLS season.
Defender Greg Garza explained how hard Martinez has been fighting to return to full health while watching his team at times dominate during his absence, and at other times, struggle.
"By the end of the game, I think he was a bit in tears. It's been tough for him. I've been there before, as well. Going through a few months where you think the world is coming to an end. But there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I think for him to do that today gives him the confidence to come back and do even better things for us in the future," Garza said.
Head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino said Martinez is healthy now. His return couldn't have been at a better time. He contributes to the team's depth in the middle of a busy stretch of the schedule that involves five games in 14 days.
"It's all good news regarding Josef," Martino said. "It was a welcomed return because we're a better team when we have our goal scorer."