MARIETTA, Ga. — With Gerardo "Tata" Martino’s departure from Atlanta United imminent following the conclusion of the team's season, striker Josef Martinez is keen to ensure he and his teammates “take advantage of him while he's here.” With the 2018 MLS Golden Boot secured, Martinez is looking toward “more important” silverware as the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs get underway.
“It's been a long journey and I'm really happy with this, but now we have two more important games and still have a lot to accomplish this season,” Martinez said. “That's why we're here — to win things. As a team, it's even better because [those trophies] are more important, but obviously it's always great to win things.”
Atlanta begin their Eastern Conference Semifinals series on Sunday against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.
"It's going to be a complicated game with the dimensions of the field, and they know how to play on it very well," Martinez said through a translator Thursday during the Golden Boot trophy ceremony. "So we're going to go there and try to get a good result. But it's a two-legged series, so it's not all about the first game. We just have to do our best over two legs and come back and win it in front of our fans."
Much of the attention on Thursday at Atlanta United's training facility focused on Martinez's Golden Boot season.
Two years ago, when Martino was helping to build Atlanta United ahead of its inaugural season, he did his best to collect the pieces he needed to make the team a winner. Among the items on the wish list: A “killer,” as Martino described it. Someone who would work hard, be ruthless in front of goal, and make a name for himself.
That player was Martinez.
It’s safe to say that Martino got what he hoped for and more in Martinez. The Venezuelan forward didn’t just kill it in Atlanta, he rewrote the record book. Martinez broke the single-scoring record that has stood the duration of the existence of the league since the bar was set by Roy Lassiter in 1996.
Martinez paid tribute to his manager when accepting his award.
“[Martino] is the one who opened the door for me to come to Atlanta. I'm here in part because of him,” Martinez said. “We have a great relationship on and off the field. Usually when I talk about our relationship, I'm not talking about soccer. We talk about other things in life… He's definitely someone who's left his footprint on Atlanta.”
Throughout the ceremony and media session Thursday, Josef held the trophy close, like a baby needing the warmth of loving parent. It’s clear that the award meant so much to the striker—not just personally but as a representative of Venezuelan pride and culture.
Knowing how much his country means to him, the club set up a surprise for Thursday’s presentation, with the trophy being hand-delivered by his friend and compatriot Ender Inciarte of Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves. Inciarte was able to add some context to what his friend, the first Venezuelan to win MLS’s Golden Boot, means to his countrymen and the growth of the sport in a country dominated by baseball.
“Everybody in Venezuela follows what he's doing. Venezuela is growing a lot in soccer, and the people are following Atlanta United,” Inciarte said. “I have a lot of close friends who ask me if they can get a picture with him or get him to sign something. He's got a lot of people following him, and he's letting a lot of people know what he can do for our country and for Atlanta.”
This isn’t Martinez’s first close encounter with the Golden Boot. Last season, despite only playing in 20 of Atlanta’s 34 league matches, Martinez made a late-season run at the Golden Boot with a string of hat tricks. He totaled 19 goals, falling five short of the eventual winner Nemanja Nikolic. When asked about his desire to win the Golden Boot at the time, he brushed off the notion, saying “I can buy a golden boot.”
“I bought one. I did,” Martinez said laughing while clutching the trophy closely on Thursday. “I bought one and now I have one.”