After taking MLS MVP and Golden Boot honors in 2018, it was fair to wonder how Atlanta United’s star striker Josef Martínez would follow up in the 2019 campaign.
Thus far, he hasn’t quite been the talk of the league that he was a season ago but the remaining weeks of MLS play could see that change.
His two-goal outing in Atlanta’s 2-0 win over FC Cincinnati on Wednesday placed him within striking distance of defending his golden boot crown while climbing up the ladder on a world-record scoring streak, so there’s plenty on the line for him as his team heads into the MLS Cup playoffs, where he’ll be looking to repeat championship honors as well.
Wednesday’s brace sees Martínez tally rise to 26 goals in the 2019 account. Though he’s closed a sizable gap in recent weeks, and now finds himself just two goals behind LAFC’s Carlos Vela for the 2019 MLS golden boot, there’s no illusion that he’s having the standout season his Western Conference counterpart is enjoying.
“He’ll win that because he has a better team, but I’ll try. You have to try. Any chance to make it happen has to be the best.” he said.
Regarding his place in the record books for being tied for second in the world’s all-time scoring streaks, he’s now six games off of Lionel Messi’s 21-game run with Barcelona in the 2013-14 season.
With only four games left in the regular season, the Venezuelan will need to get beyond the first round of the playoffs to claim the record, but things have been tough for the Five Stripes lately.
“We have more than four games, so we’ll try,” he said.
Though Atlanta’s playoff ticket is stamped, there’s still work to do aside from finishing for Martínez. After seeing a 1-0 lead dissipate into a 3-1 loss to both Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew in the last two matches, that sixth game isn’t a given.
“We were stupid against Philadelphia. Our body was tired, [from] a lot of games we played. With Columbus, we can’t lose that game. We were at home, we’re the better team, but that’s soccer.”
“You never know what’s happening.” Martínez said.
While Wednesday’s win was eventually fruitful for the striker, it took nearly an hour to break the deadlock. Atlanta enjoyed a 77% possession advantage but mustered up only one shot on target in the first half.
“For me, the first goal was more important than the second,” Martinez said.
The goal finally came when Martínez found himself with the ball in space on the counter and had to re-route to Pity Martínez before getting the ball in stride at the top of the box to hammer it in.
Cincinnati’s bunkered approach was frustrating though, Martínez admits.
“We didn’t find any space,”
The last-place expansion side held tough for nearly an hour, but Martínez and Atlanta United found a solution, as the game’s two goals came just six minutes apart.
“If they played like this in the first game, they’re not last in the table.”
“If they like to play like this, okay. But if you want to win, you have to play forward. More in your house, that’s where you have to win.”
While struggling Cincinnati might not be the best barometer of where Atlanta United is on the bounce back from its recent losses, the night provided a fresh win streak to potentially build upon heading into the postseason.
“We didn’t play really good, but we won and that’s more important.”
After an unimpressive start to the season, Atlanta United can remain elite in the MLS ranks with a solid finish.
It’s next test comes on Saturday when it hosts the ever-dangerous San Jose Earthquakes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.