Josef Martinez mentions rum a lot. The second time he brought up the sweet spirit Tuesday, during one of his rare media exposures, it was in response to his second-favorite Atlanta team.
“It’s sad,” he said when asked, via an interpreter, his reaction to the Braves’ loss Wednesday to St. Louis in the National League Division Series. In case you hadn’t heard, they were eliminated in an infamous Game 5 thanks to a 10-run first inning.
“When I sat down to watch the game, I hadn’t even gotten a glass of rum yet and they were losing 3-0,” he said.
Such is the cost of crossing over from player to fan in this city.
As we plow into the last quarter of a year and start to take account of the wins and losses of 2019, we find ourselves once more uncomfortably dependent upon reigning MLS champion Atlanta United and its reigning MVP Martinez to supply something positive. On the other side, there is no shortage of debits.
It is much to ask of a southern soccer team playing in a second-tier league to make up for the combined sins of Braves and Falcons and Yellow Jackets and, even on the occasional flat Saturday, Bulldogs. But here we are again, seeking a salve in soccer.
Atlanta United begins its playoffs at home Saturday against New England – and since that’s the Revolution and not the Patriots, there’s a real shot at victory here.
Nothing’s certain. Many steps remain. And there is caution to any optimism because new leader Frank de Boer has yet to show how far he’s capable of taking Arthur Blank’s second-favorite (but rapidly climbing the rankings) sporting property.
Martinez, the prodigious goal-scorer with the bipolar hair, is ready for the postseason, of that there is little doubt.
“In these games that’s the only mentality you have to have – to win. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing – Real Madrid, Liverpool – it doesn’t matter. We need that mentality. And if not, you can go home,” he said.
And there was this, for dramatic emphasis: “You’ve got to be ready to go from the beginning (of the game Saturday) and if not, I’m going to let you know. Because nobody messes with that, with my family, my money, my job.”
OK, there’s the edge you’re looking for in the postseason, sharp enough to cleave bone.
The fellow has accounted for 27 of United’s 58 goals this season. He’s once more an MVP finalist, although Martinez concedes the trophy this year to LAFC’s Carlos Vela.
And he has gotten very comfortable in this role of being the Atlanta regional rep for championships.
In August, after Atlanta United won another of those in-season side competitions that I’ll never understand – something called the United States Open – Martinez was cornered by the Spanish-speaking media.
As reported by The Athletic, he was explaining to them that, “We’re the only team in this city that wins (expletive).”
He added at the time, “For many (in Atlanta) we’re the only team that has brought them a championship. This team can win so much more. This organization is set up for more. This club put Atlanta on the map.”
We pause here to post the belief that Martinez was speaking strictly in terms of soccer, since Atlanta was well-established on most maps before any hands-free sport rolled into town.
But, think about it, there is a generation of fans coming of age in Atlanta now who only know the sensation of winning a championship through this import. It is the one game that has delivered in the end, whose last words were not a broken promise.
If Atlanta United can get through the next month without adding to the roster of disappointments around here – the MLS Cup final is Nov. 10 – then that is surely worth raising at least a single glass of rum in appreciation.
And, yes, that means even you, the football-and-bourbon type.
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