MARIETTA, Ga. – For all the excitement Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez brought to MLS in his first season, you might expect his goals for 2018 to be lofty, like winning the Golden Boot or helping his team take home the MLS Cup. But his main goal for the year is a simple one: stay on the field.
“First of all, I want to stay healthy this season, not suffering from either of the two injuries that bothered me last year,” he said through a translator on Thursday at the Atlanta United training facility. “Just again proving that I can score goals and help the team.”
When he was on the field, Martinez was a nightmare for opposing defenses. In 20 regular season appearances, he scored 19 times, placing him fourth in the 2017 MLS Golden Boot race. All told, he scored an MLS-record 1.12 goals per 90 minutes, making him one of the most efficient scorers in MLS history. And for his efforts, he was named a finalist for the 2017 MLS Newcomer of the Year award.
As impressive his season was, Martinez missed 14 games due to injury last season, including all of April and May. This year, he hopes things turn out differently.
“I’m happy with the 19 goals from last year, but even happier with how the team played,” he said. “I would have liked to play all the games, but I just have to keep working and who knows, we’ll see.”
Martinez has come into camp as rested as ever, having enjoyed the longest offseason of his professional career.
“I’ve never really had two months off before,” he said. “It was a long break, so now all the players are getting back into shape. For me I want to do it slowly, not to rush anything, just take my time getting into shape, and then after that just get treatment and do everything I can to stay healthy.”
Part of his offseason was also spent chatting with Venezuelan players interested in joining him in MLS.
“It’s an honor,” he said of becoming known as a league ambassador. “I think that myself and players like Yangel Herrera with New York City, we’ve kind of opened doors for other young players in Venezuela. It’s great that more young players are coming here. I think they’ll continue to come and I wish them well.”
While he looks forward to playing a full season, Martinez is also glad to get a chance to start playing with his newest teammates.
“We haven’t played a lot yet, but I think all the young guys we’ve brought are really talented and they’re really excited to be here,” he said. “Once we start playing more in training, then I’ll see what each one brings to the team.”
On teenage addition Ezequiel Barco, whose transfer saga played out this offseason on social media, Martinez admitted he knows about as much as many of Atlanta’s devoted Twitter followers.
“I just know him from the videos that I’ve seen and from watching him in the [Copa Sudamericana] championship he won recently,” he said. “We just want to get him involved quickly.”