Martinez making history with Atlanta United

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Martinez making history with Atlanta United

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HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
September 16, 2017 Atlanta - Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) heads the ball in the second half of an MLS soccer match at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, September 16, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez is scoring goals at an unprecedented rate in MLS.

After back-to-back three-goal performances, Martinez has scored 16 goals in just 14 games. The 24-year-old Venezuelan is averaging 1.39 goals per 90 minutes. According to MLS’s Matt Doyle, just two players in league history have averaged more than a one goal per 90 minutes: Stern John (1.08) and Wolde Harris (1.03), both in 1998. Martinez missed several weeks early this season with a left quad injury.

“He’s a game changer,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “He’s invaluable for us. Obviously, he’s a handful to defend against. His first step is so quick. He’s always in the right spot in front of the goal. He’s lethal and he loves to score goals.”

Martinez became just the third player in MLS history to score a hat-trick in consecutive games, joining Robbie Keane and Eddie Johnson. He’s the fifth to have a hat-trick in three league games.

“He’s phenomenal, a real predator around the box,” teammate Chris McCann said. “The ball goes in there, he’s always dangerous.”

After accomplishing a hat-trick in just the first half of last week’s 7-0 drubbing of New England, Martinez said he wasn’t thinking about trying to win the Golden Boot, the award given to the league’s top-scorer.

But after posting another hat-trick in Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Orlando City, Martinez now sits just three goals behind league-leader David Villa despite playing half the minutes (2,173 to 1,035). Martinez left the locker room before the media were allowed access on Saturday, so he couldn’t be asked about his goals. His teammates had plenty to say.

“Josef is real important for our team,” attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron said. “He’s our goal scorer and for me, he’s the best forward in the league.”

His goals against Orlando City exemplified why he’s so difficult to defend because of his ability to read the game, quickness, strength and finishing.

The first was a simple tap-in of a pass from Julian Gressel, who was sprung on a perfectly hit pass by Hector Villalba. Gressel put the ball across the goal, where Martinez lost his man and had to simply put his foot on the ball to score.

The second came on a header from seven yards away off a cross by McCann. Martinez ran away from Jonathan Spector to create enough room to pound the ball into the corner.

The third came when Martinez started a run off the back shoulder of Tommy Redding. As soon as Redding looked over his left shoulder to find Martinez, he ran around his right shoulder and into the space to volley in a cross from Villalba.

“It’s impossible to defend that goal that he put in near post off the cross from Tito (Villalba),” Parkhurst said. “He’s just too quick.”

It will be interesting to see who much longer Martinez can keep up the pace. The team will play its fourth game in 10 days when it hosts the L.A. Galaxy on Wednesday. It’s part of a stretch of eight games in 24 days.

Asked if will keep playing the in-form Martinez or give him a rest to keep him fresh for the playoffs, Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino smiled and said he will consider resting the striker if he scored 10 goals in four games.

That would mean one more hat trick for Martinez.

At this pace, it’s certainly possible.

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