During the preseason, Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez and manager Gerardo Martino met to talk about the upcoming year.
Martinez said that Martino told him that if would find space, he was going to score 30 goals.
“Sometimes people say things and you don’t believe them,” Martinez said.
Martino was wrong, well sort of.
Martinez scored 31 goals during the regular season, breaking the previous league record of 27. He has scored three more in the playoffs, making him the league’s single-season scoring leader with 34 goals.
On Wednesday, the Venezuelan striker, whose team will play Portland for the MLS Cup on Saturday, was named the league’s MVP after results of voting among players, clubs and media was revealed.
“Really, I’m very happy,” he said. “This is an award that we all wanted. Lot of work from myself, teammates, coaching staff and my family. Want to thank them for all of that.”
As he has done most of the season, first after becoming the league’s career hat-trick leader (6) against D.C. United on June 21, and then after the broke the single-season scoring mark at Orlando on Aug. 24, Martinez complimented his teammates.
“If it wasn’t for all of those guys and the passes they assisted me on, and the spectacular year we had in the league, then we wouldn’t be talking about these awards and the league final,” he said. “If I could give all of them something as a reward, I would.”
Wearing all black, a sharp suit, shirt and tie, Martinez sat beside his grandparents on Wednesday as he was praised for his scoring ability. Atlanta United President Darren Eales discussed how, in doing due diligence before signing Martinez, he reached out to goalkeeper Joe Hart, who praised Martinez’s personality and said he would be a great signing after they played together in Torino. Eales said he owes Hart a drink.
Riffing off an anecdote in an article Martinez recently wrote for The Players’ Tribune in which he shared that his grandfather described teammate Miguel Almiron, who finished second in the MVP voting, as running like an ostrich, Eales said that Martinez leaps like a salmon, strikes like a cobra and, when dealing with the media, like the Loch Ness Monster: often talked about and rarely seen.
After being presented the award by team owner Arthur Blank and MLS Vice President Lino DiCuollo, it was Martinez’s turn at the podium. He first thanked everyone in English, before switching to Spanish to ease his nerves. His eyes welled up as he continued his speech. He finished in English saying “See you later, alligator,” again showing his personality and sense of humor.
The presentation ended with a video that included congratulatory messages from former MVP’s, the Braves’ Chipper Jones, Terry Pendleton, Dale Murphy and the Falcons’ Matt Ryan.
Martinez has plans for the award. He said the Golden Boot award, which he received on Oct. 28 for being the league’s top scorer, is on a table in his home, along with several game balls. His plan for the MVP award will allow him to share it with the city and the team’s supporters: “I’m going to put (it) on top of my car so when I leave my house everyone can see it every day.”
Martinez said when he agreed to join Atlanta United on loan from Torino in Italy, his goal was to lead the league in scoring. He has said many times that scoring is what he’s paid to do. He is so fierce and determined that even missing one shot in practice can turn his mood sour, according to teammates.
Martinez’s 31 goals came on just 56 shots on a goal, a remarkable accuracy. Among the 34, 10 were game-winners, showing that he wasn’t a flat-track bully. His favorite was the 28th against Orlando, a 12-yard chip, because it’s not every day a player breaks a record.
Though 5-foot-6, he scored the most goals (10) with his head.
“Because I like to fly,” he said by way of explanation. Eight more were scored with his right foot, seven with his left foot and nine on penalty kicks.
Now, Martinez has one goal: win the MLS Cup.
“Obviously we want to be champions,” he said. “Working for two seasons for this opportunity. We don’t want to let it slip away. Hopefully we can have success on Saturday.”
MLS MVP VOTING
The top-five vote-getters for the Landon Donovan MVP Award:
Josef Martinez, 47.93 percent
Miguel Almiron, 15.03
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 11.6
Wayne Rooney, 7.8
Carlos Vela, 5.29