Atlanta United hail Josef Martinez: "He'll do anything to score a goal"

COLUMBUS, Ohio – In Atlanta United’s 2-0 win over Columbus Crew SC Wednesday night, star striker Josef Martinez had a short night, but an eventful one.

In a deadlocked match 30 minutes in, Martinez took his first chance of the match.

The Venezuelan rose high on an Ezequiel Barco corner kick and powered a header past Zack Steffen to open the scoring and increase his goal tally to 14 on the season in just 16 games, to maintain his lead in the MLS Golden Boot race.

But in the process, Martinez smashed his nose into the back of Columbus midfielder Artur’s head, crumpling to the ground in a pool of blood that initially alarmed teammates and opposition.

Martinez went back into the game, but ultimately left at halftime, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan said that summed up the striker’s character.

“One chance, one goal, breaks his nose – that’s the type of guy he is,” Guzan said. “He’ll do anything to score a goal. That shows his competitiveness; that shows why he’s the Golden Boot leader; that shows why he’s an international; that shows why he’s a top, top player. We’re fortunate to have him on our team.”

After the game, head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said Martinez left the game because he couldn’t breathe out of that nose, but only admitted that it “may” be broken.

Martino agreed that in an important moment when his team needs a goal, it’s nice to have Martinez around.

“That’s what it means to have a goal scorer like him on your team,” he said through a team translator. “Not only was it his first real chance to score, but he hadn’t participated much in the game up until that point. He just needed one chance, and he was able to help us.”

With Martinez out of the game, forwards Romario Williams and Hector Villalba put in important minutes for Atlanta.

And as a substitute, Villalba scored a goal for the first time since March 11.

The Argentine winger had been struggling with injuries nearly all season, and had been working through a hyperextended knee. He admitted after the game that the appearance and the goal were important for him.

“These last three months have been difficult for me,” he said. “It just seemed to be injury after injury. So that’s why I’m really happy to get back on the field. This game really meant a lot for me.”

With Martinez firing on all cylinders and improved backup options over the 2017 season, Martino said he feels his team’s depth, along with a variety of factors, have them atop the standings nearly midway through the season.

“We’ve been together longer, we’re able to modify systems, [we’ve had] more hours of work on the field getting to know each other, and that’s been the difference,” he said.