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After Josef Martinez injury, what does Atlanta United do now?

The team can make a number of decisions after their star striker went down with a serious injury.

ATLANTA — The extended loss - perhaps for the entire season - of Josef Martinez to a torn ACL is a devastating blow to Atlanta United just one game into the season.

Even under the best of circumstances, replacing Martinez would be nearly impossible - he's the team's best player and one of the two or three best players in MLS, responsible for 77 goals in his three seasons with United.

And these are not the best of circumstances. MLS roster construction is notoriously complicated, and while the team has roster spots at its disposal, it's not clear they have all that much salary cap room to work with.

RELATED: Atlanta United superstar Josef Martinez suffers torn ACL

(United reportedly wasn't able to bring in at least one player last month because they ran into salary cap issues.)

So what are their options?

They can do nothing at all: One thing to understand is that there are reinforcements on the way, just not ones that directly address the loss of Martinez. 

The team signed Brazilian midfielder Matheus Rossetto last month, and made a loan deal (more on those in a minute) with a club in Argentina to bring in winger Manuel Castro.

United manager Frank De Boer could, for instance, decide to use Rossetto in a central attack role known as the "False 9." Essentially, the team would play without a dedicated center forward, and Rossetto would move back and forth between dropping back, facilitating attacking build-up in the center of midfield and moving up to get into scoring position as play dictates.

It's the role Lionel Messi made famous and, obviously, it's not a simple trick to pull off. 

Rossetto still has yet to join the club as he works to obtain a P-1 athlete visa, but he reportedly should resolve that soon.

De Boer could also try and see if either of the other two in Atlanta's vaunted "PB&J" attacking trio - Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco (the J is Josef) - could serve as a False 9.

Or he could also just opt to stick with backup forward Adam Jahn, who came in on Saturday after Martinez left with the injury.

There's not a lot of flash to the 29-year-old MLS veteran - he's the type of forward who, as the position's name suggests, gets forward and waits for passes he can turn into goals. Last year, Jahn scored 17 goals with Phoenix Rising FC in the second division of U.S. soccer. 

But De Boer also might hesitate to turn to him as a regular starter - he's never scored more than five goals in an MLS season, and never been a team's full-time starter for a whole season.

They can sign a free agent: Free agency in international soccer is not like free agency in most U.S. sports - big-name players typically move teams through a major transfer and then sign new contracts. Those who wind up as free agents usually do so because they're older and their contract simply expires or because they have a falling out with their club and both sides agree to terminate things.

So, broadly speaking, soccer free agents are usually leftovers. But that doesn't mean the occasional star or semi-star doesn't find himself in this position.

Most interestingly, former Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge just left the Turkish team he's been playing with and is free to sign anywhere he pleases. He scored seven goals in 16 appearances for the club, a nice rate, but reportedly is dealing again with injury issues that have long plagued his career.

Sturridge was once a force for Liverpool, and considered one of the best forwards in England - he scored 21 goals during the 2013-14 Premier League season. If he's even remotely healthy, he's probably the most talented man in the world available to Atlanta at the moment.

But, as noted, United don't appear to have a lot of room to work with in terms of salaries, and Sturridge is accustomed to a very large one. He'd basically have to decide he wants to give Atlanta a discount simply because he wants to come here - U.S. exposure, a De Boer sales pitch and the lure of Atlanta as a glamorous MLS club might be enough to entice him, but he'll surely have richer offers elsewhere. 

(UPDATE: Nevermind, Sturridge has apparently been banned from playing anywhere until June.)

According to Transfermarkt, other current free agents include former West Ham United forward Diafra Sakho, European veteran Aleksandar Prijovic, and former Premier League striker Victor Anichebe.  

They can bring in a player on loan: A loan in soccer is fairly straightforward - A team gives you a player for a specified amount of time (usually one season), and at the end you give him back. 

Bigger teams that sign a lot of young players usually lend them out to smaller clubs until they prove they deserve a shot, but it's also frequently done by teams looking to fill gaps, after an injury or otherwise.

Some names that have been tossed around among United reporters and observers include American internationals who haven't been getting regular playing time abroad, such as Bobby Wood with Germany's Hamburg and Josh Sargent with Werder Bremen, also in Germany.

Wood's best season came in 2015-16, when he scored 17 goals in the German second division. Just 22 at the time, he looked like a breakout candidate, and was a regular starter on the U.S. Men's National Team during 2018 World Cup qualifying throughout 2016-17.

But his goalscoring never translated to the German top division, the Bundesliga, and he's featured only irregularly for Hamburg back in the second division this season. He's quick, direct and has an eye both for playmaking and scoring, though, and could offer a rough approximation of Josef Martinez's style.

Sargent, meanwhile, scored twice as an 18-year-old sub for Werder Bremen last season, drawing hype as a future USMNT star. He started out promising this year, but picked up an injury in December and didn't see a ton of minutes this month. He hasn't scored since October.

They can wait it out: Atlanta can also play wait-and-see with things. The period when most European clubs can buy and sell players reopens in the summer, and it's also typically when more player contracts expire, making them freely available (former Arsenal star and current Chelsea outcast Olivier Giroud is one such player).

Summer is still the middle of the MLS season, and if Atlanta think they can make due for a few months and find a better option then, that may just be what they plan to do.

The team has been put in a deeply difficult situation. Whether they can still meaningfully salvage something out of this season all depends on what they do next.


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