July 10, 2019 Kennesaw: St. Louis goalkeeper Tomas Gomez blocks a shot by Atlanta United midfielder Josef Martinez in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals soccer match on Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in Kennesaw. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: compton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: compton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez on Zlatan, MLS and Frank de Boer

When he’s in the mood, Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez is a fantastic interview. He can be as direct, sarcastic and lovably rude to questions as he has been to defenders in MLS the past two-plus seasons in racking up an amazing 69 goals, including at least one against every team, in 78 appearances. 

On Friday, ahead of Sunday’s game against D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Martinez was in rare form. 

He took on the tactics of manager Frank de Boer, saying Atlanta United is an attacking, not defensive, team. 

He took on the league, again pointing out that he hasn’t received a nameplate for a trophy he received last season. 

He wouldn’t take on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, though his silence when asked about him was likely as good as any verbal answer. 

And he respectfully took on Carlos Vela and LAFC, which seem to be Atlanta United’s biggest rival this season in its challenge to defend its MLS Cup.  Martinez has 15 goals this season, including five in the past three games. He trails Vela, the league leader, by four, in his quest to repeat as the Golden Boot winner.

Questions were asked by a host of reporters, some in Spanish. They, and Martinez’s answers, have in some cases been edited for clarity and brevity. All questions and answers included an interpreter.

Q: How is your arm (hurt in Wednesday’s win against Houston)? 

A: Good. 

Q: (Interpreted from Spanish) About how he’s scoring goals, kept himself healthy and what that is due to. 

A: I don’t know because I do the same thing. I do the same thing every day since I’ve got here. 

Sometimes soccer is like that. It’s not always fair. Sometimes the goals come, and sometimes they don’t. Like at the beginning of the season where I had 50 shots but couldn’t get one on target. Now the goals are starting to go in. I’m in a good moment, but it’s also credit to my teammates who are also in good form. We want it to keep going. We don’t want it to stop here. We want to keep this goal streak going. 

Q: Frank just expressed confidence that you are going to catch Vela and defend your Golden Boot. Is that a goal of yours this season? 

A: As a player you always want to win. In Vela’s case, he’s playing on a very good team. He’s scoring goals. His teammates are always scoring goals. He gets a lot of opportunities. But you just have to take advantage of those, and we will see how that plays out. 

Q: Did you get your nameplate for your Golden Boot? 

A: No. I think the UPS store must be closed because MLS never sent me (expletive). 

Q: Were you aware that you have now scored against every MLS team? What do you think about that? 

A: They are just goals. Do I get an award for that? 

Q: We can make one. 

A: I don’t think so. 

Q: Have you been able to watch any of Vela? 

A: If I watch the LAFC games then I start to cry. I prefer to stay at home, drink a glass of rum and have my cigar. 

Q: Does having a second striker help you, such as in the Houston game? 

A: I think in the Houston game, both centerbacks were marking me. If that’s the case, then you know they aren’t paying enough attention to other players so those players will have opportunities. They need to take advantage like they did against Houston. That’s what we want to keep happening. We want to keep that going and keep winning games. Not just win one game and lose the next five. 

Q: Has this year been different with all the injuries, having guys like Emerson (Hyndman), Dion (Pereira), Justin (Meram), having to incorporate these guys in the middle of the season as opposed to training camp? 

A: Yes because we need players. Unfortunately we’ve needed guys to come in and play. We’ve had guys injured, guys who haven’t been up to their best. You saw in the last game we only had 3-4 guys on the bench. We need players. 

The guys who have gotten their chances have done a good job. That’s what we need: if this team wants to continue what we’ve been doing and reach the level we were at last year, then everyone has to give more on the whole team. That’s what we need. That’s the goal. 

Q: Did you see Zlatan’s (Ibrahimovic) comments on the league, him being a Ferrari among Fiats? 

A: (Shakes his head. Laughs. Makes a lip-zipping motion.) 

Q: What’s your favorite rum and favorite cigar? Could be endorsement possibilities for you. 

A: I don’t have one. I love them all. Everything is good. 

Q: (Interpreted from Spanish) Does the team have a better idea of what Frank is asking, and about Julian (Gressel) playing on the right wing. 

A: We’ve had some good games, some bad games, but I think we need to maintain that mentality, that hunger. That’s just the way things are. 

I’ve always said that I think Julian is very good in that role when he’s playing out there. I think it’s important for every player on the team to understand their role and to be in positions that suit them well. 

I think the way we played against Houston, even though they went down to 10 men, that’s the kind of performance that we want to have where Atlanta goes out and from the very first moment they are looking for the game. Looking to be on the front foot. 

Since Atlanta became a team, we’ve always been an attack-minded team, not a defensive team. That’s the way we have to continue to play. 

Q: Playing Club America in the Campeones Cup, beyond winning a game and winning a trophy, is there added desire to you individually or to the team as a whole to prove yourselves against one of the biggest teams in this hemisphere? 

A: Of course. We are a team that every time we go out we try to win. It’s a good opportunity playing against the champion of Mexico. We are playing at home so we definitely want to win. 

I want to be remembered as a winner when I’m done with my career. I don’t want people to think I’m a loser, so that’s always important. 

First, we have to think about D.C. 

Q: There was a moment after one of the goals, where you brought Mo Adams in. It looked like he was on the outskirts of the celebration. What did you think in that moment when you saw him? 

A: I’ve always said I like celebrating my teammate’s goals more than my own. I don’t know why because I don’t have a good answer. I enjoy seeing my teammates score more than myself. The new guys, they are doing a good job and all deserve their opportunity. It’s just about making them feel involved.

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