Josef Martinez – Atlanta United’s goal machine deserves a second look

Josef Martinez – Atlanta United’s goal machine deserves a second look

Manuel Veth –

The 25-year-old Josef Martinez was at it again. Juventus were up 1-0 against the Major League Soccer All-Star team when Josef Martínez converted a billiard-like goal to make it 1-1 in front of over 70,000 soccer supporters at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Josef Martinez started the play outside the box, the ball then bounced back in forward through the box before the Venezuelan striker used his physical presence to get the ball over the line. It was the only goal scored by the MLS-All-Stars as they battled Italian powerhouses Juventus to a 1-1 draw but were then defeated in a penalty shootout.

By the time penalties came around; however, Josef Martinez was no longer on the pitch. Being forced to use the entire squad by MLS All-Star coach Tata Martino had to take the striker off around the 30-minute mark.

Some may say he may have done enough at this point. His runs frustrated Juventus’ backline and after he went off the MLS All-Star team lost some of its bite.

Josef Martinez cannot stop scoring this season

Thankfully, Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino has no such limitations during regular league play. In 23 regular league games, Josef Martinez has scored an unbelievable 24 goals this season.

The Venezuelan striker, in fact, has scored a goal every 81 minutes playing for Atlanta. Furthermore, Josef Martinez is now on track to break the single-season goal scoring record, which currently stands at 27 goals and is jointly held by Roy Lassiter (1996, Tampa Bay Mutiny), Chris Wondolowski (2012, San Jose Earthquakes) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (2014, New York Red Bulls).

There are 11 games left until the end of the season, and only an injury or a transfer away from Atlanta United could stop Josef Martinez to get the record. Many believe that either is unlikely at the moment but unfortunately, or fortunately, everything seems possible in football at the moment.

Alphonso Davies’ record-breaking transfer from the Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern München highlights that major European clubs have started to pay attention to what is happening in North American soccer.

Furthermore, big European clubs are already scouting Atlanta United on a regular basis to keep tap of Miguel Almirón’s and Ezequiel Barco’s development at the club. Both midfielders joined Atlanta knowing that they can make their next step in their development under head coach Tata Martino.

In fact, it is what has made Atlanta a trailblazer in North American soccer. Thanks to Atlanta’s success in 2017, where they reached the playoffs in the club’s first year of existence, teams have started to pay attention to what is going on in Georgia.

Instead, on bringing in older players from Europe, who see MLS as a way to get their last big pay cheque, Atlanta have focused on signing players that can be developed, and yes medium-term, sold on. This is the case for Almirón and Barco but also for German midfield playmaker Julian Gressel and striker Josef Martinez.

Josef Martinez – A European past without a happy end

In Martinez’s case critiques, however, argue that at 25-years of age big clubs in Europe will no longer pay attention. Furthermore, the striker failed when last given a chance over in Europe.

Playing for the likes of Young Boys, in Switzerland, and Torino, in Italy, the big breakthrough did indeed not happen for the striker born in Valencia, Venezuela. His best season, in fact, was the 2013/14 season when he scored ten goals and seven assists in 36 games for Thun and Young Boys.

Making the move from Thun to Bern halfway through the season a closer look at the statistics, however, reveal that he only managed two goals after making the jump to one of Switzerland’s biggest clubs. Perhaps, blinded by the overall number of goals he scored that season, Torino put in a bid regardless and signed the striker for €3 million in the summer of 2014.

In 76 games for Torino, he then managed just 13 goals and six assists. Not enough for a breakthrough in Italy and when Atlanta came knocking in March 2017 he made the move over to the United States.

Signed on loan, he scored 19 goals in 20 games in his first season for the Five Stripes. It was enough to convince Atlanta’s decision makers to pay €4.5 million to make the deal permanent and bring Josef Martinez back for another season.

Is the goal scoring machine ready for another move to Europe?

It might turn out to be the deal of the season. Thanks to Josef Martinez’s goals Atlanta dominate Major League Soccer at will at the moment.

The Five Stripes are top of the Eastern Conference four points ahead of New York City FC. They have also pulled clear of a non-playoff spot by being 20 points ahead of seventh-placed Philadelphia Union.

Atlanta also lead the leagues in goals scored with 48 and have the biggest goal differential with +22. The numbers do not lie Atlanta will be favourites for the MLS title this season.

Josef Martinez failed to make a major impact during his time in Europe (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)

Josef Martinez failed to make a major impact during his time in Europe (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)

That is if Josef Martinez does not get an offer to return to Europe this summer. This might seem impossible at the moment but there are still several European top clubs looking out to sign a striker this summer, and with MLS in the spotlight thanks to Davies Martinez’s goal-scoring tally will not have been unnoticed.

But is he good enough to make a move back to Europe? Critiques rightly point out the gap between MLS and the top European leagues but that gap is quickly closing and scouts have now started to discover the competition.

One claim made online also suggests that he needs many chances to score. Taking a closer look at Martinez’s stats this season it quickly becomes apparent, however, that this might not be true.

Martinez might be second with 2.7 shots per game among all Atlanta players – Almirón leads that category with 4.3 shot per game. With 62 shots overall Josef Martinez, in fact, scores on every 2.6 shot. The league’s second-best striker Zlatan Ibrahimović, for example, has needed 4.46 shots for every goal he scored this season.

Others have criticised his lack of height. But despite being just 172cm tall the Venezuelan has won 1.5 aerials per game this season, the fourth most behind defenders Franco Escobar, Jeff Larentowicz and Leandro González Pirez.

With those numbers in mind, it might not be the worst idea by any club in Europe, who is in need of a striker, to take a look at Atlanta’s forward. After all, everyone deserves a second chance.

Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.