12/8/18 - Atlanta - Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar (2) congratulates Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) after he scored a goal in the first half. The Atlanta United soccer team plays the Portland Timbers for the MLS Cup, the championship game of the Major League Soccer League at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta United’s Martinez named MLS Cup MVP

Before Saturday’s MLS Cup against Portland, Josef Martinez pulled Atlanta United teammate Miguel Almiron aside and thanked him for everything he’s done to help him the past two years.

But he had one more request.

“Please help me be a champion today,” he said. “I’ve never been a champion before.”

Martinez is a champion.

Behind a goal and assist from Martinez, Atlanta United defeated the Timbers 2-0 on Saturday to win the league title. Martinez was named the MLS Cup MVP, a nice bookend with the league MVP award he received on Wednesday after scoring 31 goals during the regular season, as well as the All-Star Game MVP.

“I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone,” Martinez said. “The coaching staff, the players, the fans, the city because I know it’s been a longtime since they won a championship and I think they deserve it.”

Martinez scored the opening goal in the 39th minute by pouncing on a ball that Portland failed to clear. It was his 35th goal this season, extending his MLS record.

He followed that by assisting Franco Escobar’s goal in the 54th minute with a headed pass to the back post.

Martinez said he felt more than the normal weight in the past few days of trying to win his first title. He said neighbors were planting flags around his house and slipping notes under his door.

“It was a lot of pressure to deal with,” he said. “I want to say thank you to the fans. It’s a great feeling to win this year. Now, I want to celebrate so I’m waiting on you guys to stop asking questions.”

Martinez got his wish when Michael Parkhurst and Brad Guzan, carrying a beer, walked to the podium.

Guzan asked Martinez if he wanted a beer.

Martinez said no.

“I need my champagne,” he said.

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