Josef Martinez scored yet again in the MLS All-Star game on Wednesday night against Juventus. The Atlanta United striker was simply providing a glimpse of what is to come: his time in Europe.
I must admit, as an Englishman, I struggle with the MLS All-Star game. Without being too abrasive, to me, it is emblematic of the overly-brash, flashy and somewhat hollow culture that often underpins American sports and society. It’s all show and very little dough, as we would say over here.
That is not to say that it does not have its purposes. Commercially, it certainly. I am sure MLS are very happy with the revenue that it creates, the hum-drum that surrounds it and the attraction of many fringe fans to a big event that puts the very best of the league on show. But from a footballing perspective, there is very little to like.
As Greg Garza stated in an interview with Josh Bouland of MLS Multiplex, the most important thing for any player is to not ‘get injured like I did last year’. Now, this comment was said slightly tongue-in-cheek and I do not want to take it out of context. But there was a clear undertone to his joke: avoiding injury is more important than winning the game.
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All that being said, there was one player who again proved exactly what he is capable of, even if it came in a relatively uncompetitive friendly. Yes, that man Josef Martinez scored once more, and no one is at all surprised.
It is most interesting that Martinez, against top-quality European competition, was the man to score MLS’ only goal of the game. Even though it came in the wildest of circumstances — several rebounded shots, involving a header back across the penalty area from Martinez himself, eventually squirmed to him at the far post, after he had seemingly fallen out of the play when stretching for the header, and he smashed home the finish from inches out — it was still an example of what Martinez, the most likely Europe-bound MLS star currently, is capable of.
For all of Atlanta United’s desire to keep hold of their talent, and Martinez is certainly the cream of their much-gifted crop, they will not be able to stand in the way when Europe comes calling. And it will come calling.
The Venezuelan is only 25 years of age. That is perhaps the most important, underlying point of his sales pitch: his prime is still ahead of him. He has spent two seasons in MLS. Across both years, this current one being his second, he has played in 43 games. He has scored a remarkable 40 goals, including already breaking the all-time record for the number of hat-tricks scored.
And this season has been better than the last. 23 goals in 23 games is a staggering record. He will break the all-time single-season goal record in the remaining 11 games of the season, barring injury, and will likely achieve one of the greatest attacking seasons that any player has ever put together in MLS history. Unfortunately for MLS, those type of players don’t tend to stick around.
Europe, you see, will not want to miss the chance to secure Martinez’s potential. A man who can score goals is a precious commodity, and there will be plenty queueing up to pay for his services. And when Europe comes calling, it is impossible for any young player with aspirations of being the best he can possibly be to say no.
Martinez, then, gave us a glimpse of the future. Goals against the Europeans. In what form it comes, no one knows. But it will come. It’s inevitable. Ironic, then, that the signs came in a game that doesn’t even matter. Let’s hope he can provide the dough for all that he has shown.