Atlanta United lock in on Orlando City as Josef Martinez chases history

Despite Atlanta United's possession of a slim lead in the pursuit of the Supporters’ Shield, there’s been no bigger story following the team right now than Josef Martinez likely setting a new single-season scoring record in MLS.

Even so, the Five Stripes insist it's not a distraction as they prepare to visit Orlando City this Friday night (8 pm ET | ESPN - full TV & streaming info) as part of Heineken Rivalry Week.

“Obviously there's a lot of attention on it and there should be — it's a record that's stood since the beginning,” Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst told media Wednesday. “It's probably the biggest record in MLS history. You want him to be able to break it, celebrate it, and move on. But if it doesn't happen Friday, that's alright. It'll happen sometime soon.”

The fact that Martinez could eclipse the MLS single-season scoring record with well over a handful of games remaining is ideal. Players said it allows the team to focus on more important matters—their upcoming opponent, for one—knowing that the record is almost certain to fall.

“We're rooting for him obviously and want him to break [the record] as soon as possible because we want him to keep scoring as many goals as he can,” said Parkhurst. “But I don't think there's pressure on him. This isn't the last game of the season. He's got plenty of time and he's going to do it — it's just a matter of when. There's no pressure on him to do it on Friday night. The team victory is much more important.”

Midfielder Julian Gressel echoed the sentiments laid out by Parkhurst. The German winger has an impressive relationship with Martinez, directly assisting Josef six times this season, more than any other player to one of his teammates in the league. 

“We're not worried about [the record] within the team,” said Gressel. “You can see that in the two goals we scored [against Columbus] after he scored and we knew he'd tied the record... Tito [Villalba] makes a run and could've probably passed it at the end to him, but no hard feelings from Josef. For Miguel [Almiron]'s goal, Josef even sets him up, so it's not like we're all so trying to get him that record. It'll come naturally sooner rather than later.”

Gressel jokingly pointed out at Wednesday's training session that he was the first one to publicly claim Martinez was going to go on to break the record that’s stood for more than 20 years.

“Yeah, he’s going to break it,” Gressel said back on July 7 after a 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union. “He finishes his chances, it’s as simple as that.”