Toronto FC pay rich tribute to Josef Martinez ahead of Atlanta United visit

TORONTO – Game recognizes game.

Amidst the myriad storylines when Toronto FC visit Atlanta United on Saturday (4 pm ET | ESPN, TSN4 — Full TV and streaming info), one will be the feats of Josef Martinez.

With 24 goals through 23 matches, the Atlanta striker is on the verge of doing what was once thought unthinkable: breaking the MLS single-season goal-scoring record of 27.

It is a mark that has stood the test of time.

Roy Lassiter set the standard back in the inaugural 1996 season, scoring 27 for the Tampa Bay Mutiny. Twice in recent years players have approached the mark, proving its equal – Chris Wondolowski in 2012 with the San Jose Earthquakes and Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls in 2014 – but neither was able to surpass it.

Martinez has 11 matches left to score the four goals he needs to stake claim to the record.

“Terrific; I'm a fan,” said TFC's Jozy Altidore of his counterpart. “His movement in the box is fantastic and the team plays exactly to his strengths; you see what that makes when you have everything clicking like that.

“It's fantastic to see,” added Altidore. “I hope he can break the record. He's very close.”

Supported by the likes of Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba and Julian Gressel, to name but a few of Atlanta's attacking talents, the Venezuelan striker tops a fearsome attack, built to make the most of his talents.

“It's a team that plays exactly to his strength,” said Altidore. “Fast; they like to go and run. They don't like the game to be slow; they don't like possession football. They like to get it and go and go and go. It fits their players: him, Almiron, Villalba. If you take away the space, then it's a totally different story.”

“If you play into their strengths, you're going to have a long day,” cautioned Toronto’s striker. “You have to limit the space for them to run, make it more of a chess match than relay race.”

Greg Vanney called Martinez a “special forward” and said that his goal in the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target against Juventus on Wednesday was exemplary of the player.

“He puts his face in a place where not many would in an All-Star Game because he wants to score,” said Vanney. “That's his mentality.”

Michael Bradley spoke of Martinez’s “determination, hunger, to get into spots where he can score goals.”

“His instincts and his aggressiveness in and around the box,” noted Bradley. “The goals he's scored, you could draw a little circle right around the goal. By and large, they're all right in there. That speaks to his movement, ability to find space, and to anticipate balls.”

As many have before, TFC have a plan to limit his threat, a task easier said than done. Martinez has scored in his last six matches, all but one of his last 11, and has registered a goal in all but seven games this season. In one match to date against Toronto, a 2-2 draw last fall, Martinez has one goal.

“It has to be as important for us to keep the ball out of the goal as it is for him to put the ball in the goal,” said Vanney. “That's the tenacity he has.”