Breaking the MLS mark, not tying, driving Atlanta United’s Martinez

It took some prodding, but Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez finally opened up about the chase for the MLS single-season scoring record.

After tying the league record with his 27th goal in Sunday's 3-1 win against Columbus at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Martinez was asked how it felt to get the win, and tie the mark.

His answer expressed respect for Columbus and how happy he was for Atlanta United’s other scorers, Hector Villalba and Miguel Almiron.

After pointing out that he didn’t answer a part of the question, Martinez said, “When I get to 28, I’ll have something.”

So, when he said earlier in the week that he was only interested in winning, and not the record, that may have not been the total truth.

Atlanta United, of course, did win. It leads MLS in points (51) and is in control of the Supporters’ Shield and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Now, back to the record.

With nine games remaining, Martinez is on pace to obliterate the mark that he holds with Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Asked by another journalist if it meant anything to him that he tied the record, he again went back to what’s next.

“I tied it,” he said. “What I want is to break it. When I break it, then I’ll be even more happy.”

The tying goal was a thing of beauty.

Martinez took a pass from Julian Gressel, dribbled down the middle of the field and hit a left-footed curling shot to goalkeeper Zack Steffen’s near post. He shouldn’t have been beaten from that angle, but Martinez hit the ball with such pace and curve that it curled in as if it were a guided drone.

“...He’s one of the best ever in the MLS.,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “There’s no denying it. The track record speaks for itself. It’s incredible. It really is. The fact that that record has stood for as long as it has, and he’s crushing it in his first full season. Last season, he missed months; I don’t know how many games, but a lot. This season in his first full year, he’s crushing it. It’s unbelievable.”

Gressel said that it was cool that he was the one to provide the assist for the record-tying goal. Of his nine assists this season, eight have come on Martinez goals.

“It’s nothing I want to take credit for at all,” Gressel said. “He has done a fantastic job and will break the record sooner rather than later.”

Martinez celebrated as he typically has, by standing motionless in front of the crowd and staring. But, this time he added something at the end by putting the ball underneath his shirt. He said it’s a tribute to an aunt who lives with him. She is pregnant.

“I thought about it, and I had thought about doing it before at some point this season,” he said. “But I wanted it to be a special occasion.”

The goal also exemplified why it’s so difficult to defend Martinez.

The ball was stuck with his left foot. He is right-footed. It was his sixth goal scored with his left foot. He has also scored six with his right foot and nine with his head. He is 5-feet, 6-inches tall. His remaining six goals have come from penalty kicks.

But, Martinez wasn’t done impacting the game.

He hit the crossbar with a header in the second half.

Finally, he took a pass from Hector Villalba and set up Almiron for his goal. Martinez has four assists this season.

Martinez’s teammates said they are almost out of phrases to describe how well he has played this season.

“It’s incredible,” Chris McCann said. “Anything he hits hits the back of the net. His goals are doing a world of good and pushing us to the top of the table each week.

“It’s incredible the history he’s making this season.”