Josef Martinez expects more from himself as Atlanta United marches towards another final

Josef Martinez - Atlanta United - Kneeling pose

By most measures, Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez had a great Thursday.

His late-season strike against FC Cincinnati resulted in taking home the 2019 AT&T Goal of the Year award, and he capped the Five Stripes’ 2-0 Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoff win over the Philadelphia Union with a thunderous left-footed strike past Andre Blake. Atlanta, for the second straight year, is heading to the Eastern Conference Final.

But after the match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Venezuelan star chose to focus on what he didn’t achieve.

“I can’t be happy when I miss three goals,” Martinez said. “I missed the easiest chances and the difficult ones I’m able to score, but I’m happy with the victory. The team suffered and played very well – better than the last game. We have to be happy now because we’ve got another final at home. The next game I hope to not miss as many.”

Perhaps that’s the mentality that powered Martinez, 26, to win the 2018 Landon Donovan MLS MVP award. Maybe it’s the sign of an elite striker, ruing those missed chances after totaling 77 goals in 83 regular-season games since coming to MLS. 

Whatever it reveals, it’s clear that Martinez has a hunger for more, which could be satisfied in the Eastern Conference final Oct. 30 against Toronto FC (8 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada).

“I get annoyed at myself because it’s my job, and when the game is as tight as it is tonight, and I miss those chance, I get frustrated because I don’t get many chances,” Martinez said. “I try to think that I’m going to get another, and luckily today, I scored the most difficult one and the prettiest, but I’m very happy with the win.”

The spotlight wasn’t only Martinez against Philadelphia, though, as manager Frank de Boer leaned upon some unexpected sources in the club’s second straight playoff shutout. With injuries across the backline, Florentin Pogba paired centrally alongside Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, and left back Mikey Ambrose received his first MLS start since July 7.

Then there was the midfield balance, as Pity Martinez, the 2018 South American Player of the Year, started after going unused in the club’s prior two matches. Atlanta managed to remain defensively sound with Martinez on the pitch alongside Ezequiel Barco, another attack-minded midfielder. 

For goalkeeper Brad Guzan, it came as no surprise to see squad depth shine through.

“I think it speaks volumes about our squad, our depth, and guys stepping up when their name and number is called and grasping the opportunity to go out onto the field and do the job for us,” Guzan said.

Now comes the chance for Atlanta to make one more step towards defending their MLS Cup title. Beat TFC, and they’ll feature in Nov. 10 final (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada), all with the chance to build off this year’s U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup titles.

And Martinez isn’t messing around.

“A final is a final, man,” Martinez said. “There’s only one option: to win. They played very well. That’s what I was told, but in the end everyone wants to win. They have a team with many experienced and talented players, but we have to think of ourselves and playing the final at home."