Nov 25, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta United players Miguel Almiron (from left), Josef Martinez, and Greg Garza start the celebration after Martinez scored a goal for a 1-0 lead over the New York Red Bulls during the first half in their Eastern Conference finals MLS soccer game on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Atlanta. United went on to beat the Red Bulls 3-0. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Atlanta United’s Martinez jokes (maybe) that he wants a statue

Charismatic and funny when he does speak to the media, Josef Martinez was at his best following Atlanta United’s 3-0 demolition of New York Red Bulls in the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference playoffs on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Martinez scored Atlanta United’s first goal, though he said he’s not sure how, marking the first time he has scored against the Red Bulls in two years.

“It’s always sweet to score a goal,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who it’s against – Red Bulls, New York City, Madrid, Barcelona. Scoring is my job. So, I’m happy that I scored tonight.”

The goal was his 34th this season -- a league-record 31 during the regular season and three through three games in the playoffs -- making him the all-time leading single-season scorer in MLS history for the regular season and playoffs.

Not that he was too impressed.

“Hopefully next time they’ll give me an award with my name on it because they gave me a trophy for the Golden Boot without anything,” he said.

What did affect him was the sight of the red, black and gold pieces of paper on every seat in the stadium that were part of tifo planned by Atlanta United and required everyone in the stadium to participate, and his grandmother crying during the game. Martinez said he gave her his jersey, something he said he’s never done before.

Martinez recently authored an article in The Players’ Tribune about his affection for Atlanta, a love that was enriched on Sunday.

“I never experienced the affection like I have here,” he said. “It’s very emotional for me when I see my grandmother cry. It makes me emotional, but my grandmother has always been there for me, so it’s really important to have her here. We got to the stadium today, and we saw the papers in the stands and everything they had choreographed, and it was really special.”

Now, Martinez just has one more request, one that will probably require the team winning the MLS Cup at the very least. It must eliminate Red Bulls in the second game on Thursday in Harrison, N.J., and then win the game it would host on Dec. 8 against either Sporting KC or Portland.

“I’m waiting for them to take the (statue of) the falcon down and put one of me,” he said. 

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