Basking in the afterglow of a record-setting night and an important road victory over Orlando City, even the ever-stoic Josef Martinez couldn’t help but smile after the match.
“I’m happy to get the record and the three points,” Martinez said through a translator after the match. “I had the ball, I had to think fast. I knew the center back was going to be a good distance from me, so I thought the best thing to do was shoot it and thank God I was able to.”
That goal, of course, put Martinez up to 28 goals this year, the most ever in an MLS season. The numbers at this point in Martinez’s Atlanta United career are astounding: 47 goals in just 43 starts –– a goal every 79 minutes –– and 28 this year with eight matches still to play.
And it was fitting that the assist came from the person who’s set him up more than anyone else this year, Julian Gressel. The reigning Rookie of the Year combined beautifully with Tito Villalba to burst into space down the right wing, driving toward the defenders in the middle of the park. Miguel Almirón’s incisive cut pulled a defender away from Martinez, and Gressel pounced on the misstep, laying it off with perfect timing to Martinez. And from there, the Venezuelan striking sensation did the rest.
“It was cool that I was given that assist, but he obviously did a great job at finishing it,” Gressel said after the match. “There are no words for me to say about him because he is just unbelievable."
There were certainly celebrations for the record, but there was also a sense of relief. With ambitious team aspirations on the horizon, there was a feeling in the locker room that the team could put a potential distraction behind them and focus on what’s next.
“We knew he was going to break the record,” said Tata Martino after the match. “It was just a matter of if he could do it sooner or later. The good thing is he did it sooner. Now this will calm him down.”
“It is a big relief for me,” Martinez added. “When I went in to the locker room laughing, the guys were making jokes about it and now I can make jokes back to them.”
Martinez admitted that he will be saving his cleats from the match, that they’ll be framed and never worn again. But it was clear that this team is focused on something bigger than an individual award, with Josef’s –– and his team’s –– hunger on full display after the match.
“I don’t know how many more he’ll score, but hopefully a lot more and hopefully they’ll keep helping the team to win,” Martino said. “Winning the Supporters’ Shield is our primary focus, regardless of what happens with Josef. We know that it’s a close battle with Red Bulls, New York City and Dallas in the other conference, and it’s going to be important that teams don’t make mistakes in these final weeks. But that’s always been our main focus.”
Josef’s role in achieving the team’s primary goal is simply doing what he’s done so far: be the tip of the spear, the finisher for the dynamic Atlanta United attack. And he’s ready to continuing doing his job no matter what is on the line.
“The focus will always be the same,” Martinez said. “Every game I will try to score and win. No matter if there is another record to break or not, the vision will never change.”
If he’s successful next week at D.C. United, that would mark ten matches in a row Martinez has scored, another MLS record for the longest scoring streak. It could be another date with history books for Atlanta United’s number 7 next week.