ATLANTA – Josef Martinez is cruising way out in front of Bradley Wright-Phillips in the 2018 MLS Golden Boot race. His Atlanta United team are four points ahead of Wright-Phillips' New York Red Bulls in the standings. And with 11 games left in ATLUTD’s regular season, he’s well on course to demolish the league single-season scoring record of 27 goals jointly held by Wright-Phillips, Chris Wondolowski and Roy Lassiter.
BWP is a big Josef fan just the same.
“I was just excited to see him up close,” Wright-Phillips told MLSsoccer.com at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Tuesday, naming Martinez the fellow All-Star he was most excited about playing alongside in the 2018 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target on Wednesday (7:30 pm ET; ESPN, UniMás, TSN, TVAS). “This season he’s been amazing, the best striker in the league. And obviously I’m a striker, so I’m a fan of strikers and it’ll just be good to be out there with him.”
With 24 goals in 23 league games in 2018, Martinez is racking up an otherworldly strike rate that has few comparisons in MLS history, building on the 19 he scored in 20 appearances last year, and opening up a nine-goal cushion between him and second-placed Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Golden Boot table.
BWP sits one back of Ibra with 14 goals in 21 games, the latest chapter in his five-year run of finishing excellence. While many forwards might insist on keeping up the boot chase until the season’s very last breath, RBNY’s attacking icon readily concedes that nobody’s catching Martinez.
“I think that’s done. If I’m being honest, that race is done,” said Wright-Phillips. “But I don’t mind, though. It is what it is. It’s his time right now.”
As the hard-charging spearhead of Atlanta’s jet-fueled attack, Martinez feasts on plenty of inviting service from talented teammates like Miguel Almiron and Julian Gressel. What’s most striking to BWP and other All-Star colleagues, however, is the Venezuelan’s raw, cantankerous thirst for hitting the net, with the Five Stripes star having earned a reputation for his raging intensity in match play.
“He seems very hungry to score goals,” said Wright-Phillips. “A lot of strikers don’t have that – everyone thinks they do, but you can see on the pitch that when he gets on there he wants to score. He’s doing everything he can to score. And there’s no surprise to me why he’s top of the goalscoring charts.”
Surely at least some part of BWP is hoping that his single-season record survives, though, right? Nope. He’s not kidding himself, and he doesn’t think anyone else should, either.
“He’s got four goals to get, right? He does that, like, in two weeks,” said BWP of Martinez with a laugh.
Known for his grounded, self-critical nature, Wright-Phillips insists that his is a philosophical approach to personal milestones, whether he’s the one setting the records or being surpassed.
“I know it sounds weird for an athlete but I’m not too competitive,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me. Records are there to be broken – and it also shows improvement. When I done it, when I got there, someone’s going to break it, someone’s going to break Josef Martinez’s [record]. That’s how it goes, that’s improvement.”
Ironically, BWP says his famous father Ian Wright, a prolific scorer in the English leagues who netted 313 career goals at club level, was more in the Martinez vein.
“He was DEFINITELY one of them!” said BWP. “He wants me to be more selfish and just shoot on sight, but it’s just not me."
“Goals are everything to me, I get it. But when I play, it doesn’t feel like that. I don’t have that mindset when I’m on the field,” he added. “When I got 27 goals, I didn’t like my stat that there was only one assist. I don’t think I’m cut from the same cloth as those out-and-out strikers … I respect those guys, but I just don’t feel I think the same.”
So where does BWP rank Martinez in the pantheon of all-time MLS goal kings?
“If he carries on how he is, then he’ll probably be one of the best there is,” said Wright-Phillips. “His goalscoring rate is crazy – crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that.”