The league’s leading scorer has without a doubt earned his way on the shortlist for Most Valuable Player.
Josef Martínez forced opposing fans to hold their breath whenever he got the ball and eventually sigh in frustration when he scored one of his 31 goals. The forward’s cutting runs and shooting ability has been something teams struggled with, and a majority have paid the ultimate price.
Heading into the 2018 season, it was well known that Martínez was arguably the best striker in the league coming off a debut campaign in which he scored 19 goals in 20 games. After Atlanta United were surprisingly eliminated by the Columbus Crew in the 2017 playoffs, it was clear that Martínez had a chip on his shoulder heading into this season.
The Vancouver Whitecaps would be Josef Martínez’s first victim of the season when they took a trip down south. The March 17th matchup would be the first of three hat tricks scored by the Venezuelan this campaign.
The game’s opening goal was set up by Leandro González Pírez, who was taken down in the box during a free-kick. Martínez stepped up to the spot and scored with ease.
And then, for his second goal, making a run towards goal, Martínez could not have timed his run any better with Miguel Almirón’s pass. A combination of the 25-year-old’s speed and composure allowed him to go alone at goal, eventually firing a shot past Stefan Marinovic and into the back of the net.
Martínez displayed yet another great run for Atlanta’s fourth and final goal of the game. With Andrew Carleton holding the ball at the top of the eighteen, Martínez separated himself from the two Whitecaps defenders near him. The forward leaped and headed the ball in the right side of the net. Not only did Martínez lead the league in goals scored, but he also noticed more game-winning goals than any other player in MLS.
From the end of June to the end of August, Martínez went on a remarkable run of scoring. Starting with a single goal in Atlanta’s home victory over Orlando City, the striker would go on to score 14 goals in just 9 games.
This nine-match scoring streak would include braces over FC Dallas, Montreal Impact, and Toronto FC. D.C. United’s trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium was the best of Martínez’s performances in this run, putting three past Wayne Rooney and co.
After watching his team go down a goal in just the eighth minute, Martínez took it upon himself to not only find an equalizer, but win the game for Atlanta.
For someone who is only 5’6”, Josef Martínez is not one to be shy using his head to score. Looking for space inside the box, Martínez slipped past D.C. center-back Frederic Brillant to leap and head a Héctor Villalba cross into the back of the net. The Venezuelan put his body on the line to score this goal, slamming into goalkeeper David Ousted along the way.
Martínez would go on to score with his head yet again in the 54th minute, this time in a much safer fashion. With a majority of Atlanta’s team inside the box before a cross from Andrew Carleton, Martínez reacted to a deflection perfectly, moving quickly to redirect the ball into the goal, giving his team the lead.
The striker wasn’t done yet. Watching teammate Almirón make a penetrating run through D.C.’s defense, Martínez put his head down and continued to run. Almirón eventually released the ball once he was closed down, sending it Martínez’s way. Steve Birnbaum’s attempted clearance of the ball slammed into Martínez’s legs and into the forward’s path towards the goal. Effortlessly, Martínez rounded Ousted and completed his hat-trick with an empty net goal.
Atlanta’s lead man not only set personal records, but also helped them reach an impressive second place finish for the regular season.