What Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez have done in recent seasons is historically great. MLS is witnessing its two greatest performers at the peak of their powers.
Sometimes, it is easy to overlook the greatness that is right in front of you. Footballers — and this is true for all walks of life — are frequently valued more once they are gone.
But it is important to recognise the achievements of the present. Whether that be Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, or LeBron James and his claim to be the greatest. And in Major League Soccer right now, there are two players playing on a plane that very few in the history of the league have matched.
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Carlos Vela was named the MLS MVP last season with the greatest individual season in the history of the league. He set the single-season goalscoring record with 34, perhaps most remarkably added 10 more assists, meaning he ranked first in goals and sixth in assists, and led Los Angeles FC to the greatest team campaign in MLS history.
It was only his second season in the league. His first was equally as impressive, totalling 14 goals and 10 assists in 2,378 regular-season minutes. He arrived in LA as the face of the latest giant MLS franchise, and he more than lived up to the expectations. But Vela is not the only one shining brighter than player before him.
The very record that Vela broke with a hat-trick on the final day of the 2019 regular season belonged to Josef Martinez. In 2018, as Atlanta United went on to win MLS Cup and only lost out on the regular-season points record to the New York Red Bulls after a shock Decision Day defeat, Martinez fired in 31 goals in 2,900 minutes. He, too, was named MVP.
His 2018 season was not quite as awesome as Vela’s. Martinez is a pure goalscorer; Vela scored at the same rate as the Five Stripes star but added creativity, assists, sublime skill and slaloming dribbling ability, too. But Martinez has been more consistent over a longer period.
Now into his fourth season in MLS, Martinez has 77 goals in 84 games. Into an absolutely absurd rate of goalscoring over a sample size that cannot be denied. Vela, meanwhile, has 60 goals in 61 games, an equally other-worldly strike-rate.
The pair now sit within striking distance of Bradley Wright-Phillips’ 100-goal record. In 2018, the former New York Red Bulls man became the fastest player to reach 100 goals, taking 159 games in total. Both Vela and Martinez are on course to utterly smash the record out of the park, and if they continue at their current rate, could reach three figures in less 120 or even 110 games.
It is cruel that this greatness will be cut short in 2020. Martinez tore his ACL in the season-opener. Vela is currently sat on the sofa like everyone else. Nevertheless, when MLS returns, either this year or next, remember that you are watching two of the best players in league history hit their peak. This is true greatness shining bright. So sit back and enjoy the show.