Anger powers Atlanta United’s Martinez

July 15, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Josef Martinez gets into a scuffle with Seattle Sounders Chad Marshall during the first half in a MLS soccer game on Sunday, July 15, 2018, in Atlanta.     Curtis Compton/



July 15, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Josef Martinez gets into a scuffle with Seattle Sounders Chad Marshall during the first half in a MLS soccer game on Sunday, July 15, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/

The scene was heartwarming and a bit odd at the same time.

Josef Martinez, not long after scoring three goals in a defeat of D.C. United and then saying that he’s angry, he’s always angry, seemed happy, really happy while playing soccer with a small group of kids on the field in an empty Mercedes-Benz Stadium last week. In perhaps his only missed shot of the day, he popped a penalty kick off the post as one of the kids ran over to try to stop the glacially slow-roller.

Turns out, the anger that has powered Martinez to a league-leading 22 goals this season and 41 in 42 league games in his career, was still there that night because he said so Tuesday.

“I’m always angry, whether it’s on the field or off the field,” he said. “Always angry. It’s just the way that I am.”

Martinez said that anger is part of the mix of things that motivate him. First, he listed his family and his friends. A brother and niece live with him in Atlanta. He also loves his two dogs. He said it’s good to see smiles when he comes home and that he loves spending time with them.

It’s not just his family. He seems to love interacting with all kids, hence the scene at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as well as his interactions with groups that come to the team’s training ground in Marietta. Martinez always has time for photos and autographs. He said children have an innocence that other people don’t see.

“They see you for who you really are,” he said.

But once the soccer starts, teammate Jeff Larentowicz said Martinez’s demeanor changes. Before games, Martinez walks around the locker room with a ball in his hand, his energy seemingly looking for an outlet.

“He’s like a bull in a pen waiting to be unleashed,” Larentowicz said.

Larentowicz said he sees more desire than anger from Martinez when he’s playing soccer. It’s a desire to put anything on the line to score. Martinez has suffered a broken nose scoring against Columbus, and risked it again by challenging D.C. United goalkeeper David Ousted’s fist while scoring another goal last week. He almost got into it with Seattle’s Chad Marshall after he pushed him in the back.

Larentowicz said that Martinez’s determination reminds him of Taylor Twellman, his former teammate at New England.

When asked about Martinez, Larentowicz consistently shares an anecdote about last year’s 3-3 draw with Orlando City. Martinez scored a hat-trick, but the team drew. Martinez was furious. He left the locker room before the media arrived.

“Kind of shows where his mindset is,” Larentowicz said. “He wants to score but first and foremost he wants to win. That’s desire.”

Michael Parkhurst referenced arguably the greatest U.S. player when describing Martinez’s demeanor on the field compared with of itf.

“Similar to a Clint Dempsey,” Parkhurst said. “Off the field he’s different. He’s more mellow. When you step over the white line you get a different person. He’s fierce out there. He wants to win every challenge. He wants us to win every challenge. He wants to score every goal, even if it’s just a half-chance.

“He expects perfection from himself and from the team. When it’s not like that, that he’s angry. That’s what makes him so good and why he’s leading the league.”

It may be a good thing that Martinez left the Orlando game before the media arrived because his interviews can be interesting.

Sometimes, he’s in a good mood (typically after wins) and can be insightful and funny. There have been a few times when Atlanta United’s interpreter has had to stop to consider if he can repeat what Martinez said because it may include a simple curse word and the cameras are rolling. In those situations, Martinez will point at the interpreter, smile and encourage him to translate exactly what he said.

And there are times that Martinez is obviously not in the mood to talk to the media.

Tuesday started out that way. Fresh off the training pitch, Martinez still seemed to be in soccer mode as he met with 4-5 members of the media.

Asked if it helps him to play angry, and why is he angry, Martinez, looking at something on the ground, responds:

“I don’t know. That’s a question for you guys.”

When told that his answer wasn’t understood, Martinez said, “If it doesn’t help me, then you can guys can tell by the numbers what you think.”

Martinez soon began to soften and shared the insight about his family, his dogs and the anger that seems more like a fuel that has helped him become the league’s all-time hat-trick leader (6). Once the nine-minute interview is done, Martinez walks over to a small group of kids and signs autographs and poses for photos.

“If you play this game, you have to have the mindset to win,” he said. “I’ve always been like that. Ever since I was a kid, no matter what game I was playing, I always want to win. In a competitive sport, you have to have to that mindset if you want to be successful.”