Atlanta star Josef Martinez expected to miss at least 1 game

Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) and FC Cincinnati defender Andrew Gutman (96) vie for the ball in the first half of an MLS soccer match, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez, center, hugs midfielder Eric Remedi (11) after scoring in the second half of an MLS soccer match against the FC Cincinnati, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton, right, reacts after giving up a goal to Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez in the second half of an MLS soccer match, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez reacts in the first half of an MLS soccer match against the FC Cincinnati, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

MARIETTA, Ga. — Atlanta United star Josef Martinez is expected to miss at least one game after injuring his right knee and ankle, a better-than-expected diagnosis that sets up the dynamic striker to be available for the MLS playoffs.

The team feared Martinez was seriously injured over the weekend in a 3-1 victory over San Jose. But coach Frank de Boer said after a training session Monday that nothing was broken and there was no ligament damage.

Still, Martinez is likely to miss Wednesday's game at New York City FC, a showdown at Yankee Stadium between the two top teams in the Eastern Conference. He is using crutches and still in a lot of pain, according to de Boer.

"Hopefully, he can return quicker than we expected," the coach said. "We are working day to day."

Martinez is one of the league's biggest stars, setting a record with 31 goals last season and winning MVP honors while leading United to the MLS Cup championship in just its second year.

The 26-year-old Venezuelan ranks third in the Golden Boot standings this season with 26 goals, trailing Carlos Vela of Los Angeles FC with 29 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of LA Galaxy with 27. Over his MLS career, he has 76 goals in 82 games.

Martinez set another MLS record this season by scoring a goal in 15 straight games, a streak that ended Saturday when he was injured against the Earthquakes.

The striker went down in the 79th minute after colliding with a teammate and landing awkwardly on his right knee. He was able to walk off the field and returned to action before being subbed off. He was carried to the locker room on a stretcher.

Atlanta is second in the Eastern Conference, trailing NYCFC by four points with three games left in the regular season. De Boer said Brandon Vazquez or Héctor Villalba will take over the striker duties while Martinez is out.

United already has clinched a spot in the playoffs for the third year in a row and at least one home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. If the team can pass NYCFC in the East, it would earn a first-round bye.

Otherwise, United would open the playoffs with a game on either Oct. 19 or 20.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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