Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez is on pace to obliterate the single-season record for goals in MLS.
With a penalty kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Philadelphia, Martinez has 18 goals in 20 games. He’s on pace to score 30 goals in 34 regular season games. The league record is 27, set by Chris Wondolowski with San Jose in 32 games in 2012, and tied by the New York Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips in 2014.
“He’s going to break it,” Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel said. “He finishes chances. As simple as that. Today was a pen. Those count too.”
Martinez hopes he can break the record, but doesn’t seem focused on it.
“The most important thing is to always help the team win,” he said. “If that means scoring a lot of goals then I’ll welcome that. The most important thing is for the team to win.”
Well, Atlanta United is doing that.
The team is atop the Supporter’ Shield standings with 40 points, has scored the most goals in MLS (42) and is pulling away from the rest of the East. It will have at least a five-point lead on the second-place team in the conference after Sunday’s games.
Playing through a broken hand and broken nose, Martinez is a reason why. He has outscored the entire franchise of Seattle (15) this weekend. Atlanta United will host Seattle on June 15 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
His goal against the Union was his fourth in the past three games. He also earned an assist on Hector Villalba’ goal. It was Martinez’s second assist in three games.
“Today, he was very, very good for us,” Gressel said Saturday. “Not just in the box when he had a chance on the pen. He worked hard. He tracked back. I think you could tell today that he really wanted to win the game. That’s what we need from him and he did an unbelievable job today and does a good job every week.”
Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino didn’t know what the record was.
After being told, Martino’s eyes got wide and he began nodding his head when doing the calculations on if Martinez can break the mark.
The team’s remaining schedule should be much easier than the first 20 games. It features games against several teams that aren’t among the six currently above the red line signifying a place in the playoffs in their conference. The group includes Seattle, D.C. United (twice), Toronto (twice), Orlando City, Colorado, San Jose and Chicago.
“I’m really happy with how Josef is playing, but especially happy with how he is participating more in recent games,” Martino said. “Now he’s providing assist to his teammates. Even if we don’t score he’s playing guys in and trying to connect with his teammates. We know he’s a great player. Now that he’s added that other skills he’s going to make our team even better.”
Martinez said that work with teammates may just be more noticeable than last season. He could have had a few more assists against Philadelphia. Ezequiel Barco had a shot blocked on one long line-splitting pass from Martinez. The same happened in the loss at Dallas on Wednesday.
That ability to improve may be one of the less-appreciated parts of his game. Martinez is a goal-scorer, but he is also a complete player. He is the player who is brought into the penalty box to help defend corner kicks and set pieces because of his jumping ability. He will sacrifice himself to play defense. He headed away an early Philadelphia free kick that was hit very hard in the first half. Atlanta United’s press also starts with him. He works hard at that.
And he notices the things that he can do better. After being caught offside several times earlier in the season, Martinez said he called Filippo Inzaghi, one of the greatest strikers in Italian history with more than 200 goals scored for clubs and country.
Martinez wanted to know how many times he was caught offside compared to how many goals he scored.
Martinez didn’t share the answer, but his laugh implied that Inzaghi saw the assistant’s flag go up quite a few times.
Still, the number of times Martinez has been called offside in recent weeks has been reduced to almost zero. So, Martinez said he doesn’t mind if he gets criticized if he gets caught being offside. He’s scoring. Atlanta United’s winning.
“I hope he keeps getting opportunities,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “If he keeps healthy, he’s going to get opportunities the way we play. He’s a goal-scorer through and through. He’s so good in front of the net. Every game he creates chances, or we create chances and he finishes them off. He’s a handful to play against.”