Neville: Josef Martínez wants to break the MLS goals record

Josef MIA

During the 2023 MLS season's early days, there may be a new entrant into the league’s top-10 goals list.

Josef Martínez, who signed with Inter Miami CF on Wednesday after reaching a contract buyout with Atlanta United, sits on 98 career goals.

But head coach Phil Neville senses the 2018 Landon Donovan MLS MVP is eyeing far more than catching New England Revolution all-time great Taylor Twellman for the No. 10 spot (101 goals). Instead, Neville believes San Jose Earthquakes legend Chris Wondolowski’s league-record 174 goals are in his sights.

“I think he's really hungry to break that all-time leading goalscoring record in MLS,” Neville said Friday. “That's his goal and that tells me that the boy will work hard, he'll be part of a team.

“He's got an infectious personality. Every time you speak to him, he's got that little glint in his eye that tells you he's here to have fun and he plays like it's fun, but he's here to win. When you talk about the management of a player, a player of that winning mentality, that will rub off on other players.”

Neville wasn’t wading into the prediction business, but rather commenting on the type of player Miami have added – all on a non-Designated Player deal. Martínez's contract length with Miami wasn't disclosed, a key factor in any league record pursuits.

The 29-year-old Venezuelan international’s exit from Atlanta was complicated and at times messy, but the Herons have undoubtedly added one of the league’s best-ever strikers. Martínez arrives with an astounding 103 goals and 17 assists across 144 regular-season games (six seasons), figures that’d surely be higher if it weren’t for a torn ACL he suffered during Atlanta’s first game of the 2020 campaign and fighting some lingering effects in the last two years.

Campana is "equally as important"

But it doesn’t sound like Miami are taking a Josef-or-bust approach into 2023, either. On Friday they formally announced the permanent acquisition of striker Leonardo Campana from English Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers. The 22-year-old Ecuadorian international suited up for Miami last year on loan, tallying 11g/2a as their second-leading scorer.

“I've got to say that the signing of Leo is equally as important as the signing of Josef,” Neville said of their Young Designated Player, who held U22 Initiative status last year. "We see Leo as a massive part of this club.

“From the day that we saw him, from the day we met at the facility – we're talking about Josef's star quality, this boy's got star quality too. He's brave, he's courageous, he's in the right place at the right time. He knows what he wants and he knows where he's going.”

Miami’s two big-name strikers are also tasked with replacing the galvanizing presence Gonzalo Higuaín offered in 2022, almost singlehandedly pushing their new-look squad into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s No. 6 seed. The Argentine legend retired after last season, having tallied a team-leading 16g/3a.

But Miami’s confident they have enough firepower to thrive, especially when considering the depth Ariel Lassiter, Nico Stefanelli and more provide to a team that were middle of the pack in MLS with 47 goals. 

“We all felt we didn't score enough goals last year,” Neville said. “We all felt that particularly when we didn't have Leo and Gonzalo on the pitch at the same time, we weren't a goal threat. When we did get Leo on the pitch with Gonzalo, we were scoring 2-3 goals more goals.

“I think this year we're going to be a team that's going to attack, we're going to be a team that's going to go for it and we'll be a team that's heavily weighted in the forward area because we need to commit more men forward.”

Presented another way: Expect to see plenty of Martínez and Campana playing together, chasing their collective and personal benchmarks.

“When you have two of those [players] in the same team, you hope that we're going to get goals,” Neville said. “I'm really excited to get them two playing together with the challenge of all good strikers that we've got as well.”