5 Five-Stripes Thoughts: Martinez entering rarified air in Atlanta sports history

Mike Conti
July 23, 2018 - 10:58 am
Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez

© Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

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Sometimes, it feels like it’s Josef Martinez’s world, and we’re all just living in it.

Martinez was spectacular Saturday, and he needed to be, with his club picking up a badly-needed three points in a 3-1 win over DC United.  As has been widely discussed by now, Martinez collected his sixth career hat trick, the most for any player in the history of Major League Soccer, and he did it in an absurdly small amount of games.

The hat trick puts Martinez ten goals clear of anyone else in the race for the MLS Golden Boot, and gives him a clear path to the league’s single-season scoring record.  Six goals in his final 12 games gets him there; and, if he continues on his goal-per-game pace, he could shatter the MLS record by seven full goals, making him the first MLS player ever to tally 30 goals in a season.

Martinez justifiably is the headline from Saturday’s win, but there were many other bright spots, with Atlanta United now well positioned to get back-to-back wins for the first time since May 5 if they can beat Montreal on Saturday. 

Here are my five thoughts on Saturday’s victory in Atlanta:

1. Martinez is doing something we have rarely seen in Atlanta pro sports.  Statistically, we have not seen a full-season performance in our city as singularly dominant as what Martinez is on pace to do this season.  Only two Atlanta professional athletes have ever led their respective leagues in scoring in a single season: Dominique Wilkins and Matt Bryant.  With all due respect to Dominique and Matt, they were overshadowed by other superstars in their leagues.  Dominique played in the era of Magic, Bird and Jordan.  Bryant’s scoring title came in the same season his teammate was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.  Dale Murphy and Hank Aaron won National League scoring titles, and Chipper Jones once won a batting title, but these titles were not won outright.  Josef Martinez is going to win the Golden Boot and obliterate the MLS single-season scoring record, barring an absolute tragedy.  And we will do so as the most dominant player in MLS this year.  In one case Saturday, he beat DC goalkeeper David Ousted on an aerial, and in another case, he took a deft touch around an off-line Ousted to walk the ball in from ten yards out.  Very few players in MLS possess the skill-set of Martinez, as displayed on Saturday.  Quite simply, this is, so far, the best single-season performance by any Atlanta professional athlete we’ve ever seen.  So let’s savor it.  The moaning about Josef being offside or not converting from months ago is long over.  (By the way, Saturday marked the first time in a five match span in which Martinez was called offside).

2. This club is resilient.  Saturday marked the fourth consecutive occasion where Atlanta United conceded the first goal and came back to tie or take the lead.  They are now 8-0-1 this season in matches following a loss or a draw.  After the energy and emotion was sucked out of Mercedes Benz Stadium from Zoltan Stieber’s eighth minute goal, Atlanta United settled down and held possession to the tune of 59 percent in the first half.  The back line played nearly flawlessly after the goal, and the Five Stripes played with a calm and poise that can only come from a place of confidence.  This club’s ability to quickly bounce back from a loss or draw, or even from a quick concession of a goal, could prove crucial when they get pulled into two-leg postseason series in November.

3. Andrew Carleton earned another start.  Tata Martino sent shockwaves through the stadium (and the commentary box) when he selected Carleton to start in place of Ezequiel Barco on Saturday.  The 18 year old did a more than adequate job in his 65 minutes of work, passing at 82 percent, getting two shots on target, creating a chance, and even getting credited by Opta with a tackle defensively.  Had it not been for the slightest of deflections, Carleton would have gotten his second professional assist on the second Martinez goal.  Carleton should only get better with more consistent opportunities to play, and with Barco out for Saturday in Montreal, I see no reason to not give him another opportunity.  Here again is a validation of the importance of ATL UTD II, where Carleton has been able to get some game minutes and hone his craft while the First Team roster remains crowded.

4. Eric Remedi is going to help this team.  Remedi started training with his new club only five days before the DC United match, but looked fully fit and had a productive 13 minutes where he drew two fouls and was credited by Opta for creating a chance.  It feels like it’s not going to take long for Remedi to develop chemistry with his teammates; in fact, we saw signs of that already on Saturday.  Julien Gressel had an extremely strong game in Darlington Nagbe’s vacated spot on Saturday.  But Remedi appears to be ready to make a spot start or two, which could allow Gressel to move up to an attacking position.  Or, it could allow Jeff Larentowicz to get a day off.  There are still 12 matches to go before the postseason and Remedi is absolutely going to provide some valuable depth for Martino.

5. It looks like the race for the Shield will go down to the wire.  Atlanta United now has a four point lead over New York City for the Supporters’ Shield, but Atlanta, New York City, and New York Red Bulls are all at a two point per match pace, and all three are on pace to end the season on 68 points. Atlanta United is well positioned in the goal difference and goals scored tiebreakers, but it’s now extremely apparent that the Five Stripes will be pushed all the way to the end by New York City, Red Bulls, Portland and FC Dallas for the Shield.  One quarter of Atlanta United’s remaining matches are against clubs currently above the playoff line.  That’s the same for New York City and FC Dallas.  The Red Bulls have five such games remaining.  In other words, Atlanta United can ill afford to drop points against inferior opponents.  Unfortunately, Montreal is playing their best soccer of the year (coming off a great draw in Portland on Saturday) and Toronto finally has a pulse with the return of Jozy Altidore.  Anything less than four points out of the next two matches (prior to a two week break after August 4) is going to be trouble.​

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