Best No. 9 in MLS? Atlanta United rave about "game-changer" Josef Martinez

ATLANTA – A predator. The best No. 9 in the league. Invaluable.

That’s just a sampling of the praise Josef Martinez’s Atlanta United teammates heaped on him after his latest bravura performance.

Martinez scored his second hat trick in a row on Saturday, winning an important point for Atlanta in a 3-3 draw with Orlando City SC in front of a record single-game MLS regular-season crowd of 70,425.

Paired with the Venezuelan’s trio of goals in Wednesday’s 7-0 rout of New England, it’s only the third time in MLS history that a player has notched back-to-back hat tricks, with Martinez joining Robbie Keane and Eddie Johnson in this exclusive company of strikers.

Martinez has scored seven times ATLUTD’s last three home matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, giving him 16 goals on the season in only 14 appearances. The Five Stripes have earned 26 points in those 14 matches (8-4-2), while they’ve only earned 16 points in their other 13 games (4-4-5).

“Josef is really important for our team, he’s our goalscorer,” said Miguel Almiron. “For me, he’s the best forward in the league.”

Midfielder Julian Gressel said Martinez’s performance on Saturday was “unbelievable,” and praised his teammates’ overall finishing ability and ability to make incisive runs at the opposing back lines.

“I think he’s one of the best players in the league, no doubt,” said Gressel. “He’s always a threat and usually occupies two to three defenders, so sometimes even the other guys will open up around him because he’s just that good.”

Added Chris McCann of Martinez: “He’s phenomenal, a real predator around the box. The ball goes in there, he’s always dangerous. He’s always on the move. You can’t give him a minute in the box, as he showed.

“I’m glad he’s on our team, because I wouldn’t want to mark him when he’s moving sometimes.”

Captain Michael Parkhurst joined the chorus as well.

“He’s a game-changer,” said the center back. “He’s a handful to defend against, his first step is so quick. He’s always in the right spot in front of the goal, and he loves to score goals, and he’s disappointed when he doesn’t. He’s an extremely important part of this time and we’re thankful he’s on top of his game right now.”

Atlanta United manager Tata Martino was asked in the post-match press conference if he plans to rest Martinez after playing three matches in less than a week.

“We’re going to try to have him score 10 goals in the next 4 games,” wisecracked Martino. “And he can rest after that.”

Martino was joking.

At least it seemed he was.