Josef Martinez was instrumental in Atlanta United's 4-0 win over FC Cincinnati on Wednesday night, getting a brace in a match that propelled them above the Eastern Conference's Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line.
It was also the Venezuelan striker's 100th MLS regular-season match, and his 85 career tallies give him the most goals during that span in league history.
After the match, Martinez reflected on reaching the milestone, recalling his battle back from a season-ending ACL injury he suffered in an encounter with Nashville SC during the 2020 opener.
“Six months ago, I didn’t think I’d play again," he reflected. "I have my own goal, and I love this team. You know that already. That’s my job. My job is that one. I’m a striker. My job is to score. I’m so happy here. I try to help my teammates, and I’m so happy because 85 goals is not easy."
He also indicated that there's another milestone he's gunning for, adding, "I have to continue it because I want to arrive at 100 goals.” He's set an ambitious timeline for that: Decision Day on November 7, which gives him 10 matches to score at a 1.5 goals-per-match pace.
Though Martinez made himself a big part of the game's narrative, two of his teammates also grabbed headlines. New arrival Luiz Araujo scored his first-ever MLS goal, and Ezequiel Barco netted a late free kick that put an exclamation point on things.
“They are playing amazing right now," Martinez said of his fellow Five Stripes. "They are playing so good. I try to help them because it’s different when I am not on the pitch. I just enjoy them. I just enjoy Luiz and Marcelino [Moreno] and Barco and everyone. … We have an amazing team. Today and the last two games, defensively, we played so good, so that we have to continue that because we are just shy of something special.”
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda, who has only led three games since joining from Seattle midseason, is witnessing first-hand what the 2018 Landon Donovan MLS MVP brings.
"We're very happy for Josef's numbers, but I'm very happy for the heart that he puts on the field," Pineda said. "He's a team guy, he's a guy that is crazy for winning titles with this franchise, and that's what I love from the leaders of this team, whether it is Brad \[Guzan\], whether it's Josef, they all want to succeed with this club because they love the club. Josef having 100 games with this club in MLS is just another remarkable stat for his amazing career in MLS, and I'm very happy for him. He's been fantastic since I'm here, and I think the best for Josef is just coming."
The century mark is paramount not just for Martinez's personal achievement, but also for what it could mean as Atlanta look to solidify playoff seeding.
"My goal is to get to 100 goals," he emphasized. "It’s something that I have talked about with the other people around me. It’d be very nice to do it, especially given all of the experiences that I’ve been through here. We’re still trying to improve and give back to the fanbase. Now, we’re fighting for these playoff spots. We deserve it.”