ATLANTA – In 2018, Josef Martinez has been an All-Star, league scoring champion, record-breaker, league MVP and now, finally, an MLS Cup winner.
It’s been close to a perfect year for the Venezuelan forward, who has raised the bar for goalscorers in MLS, perhaps to an unreachable level, by scoring 31 goals in the regular season and four more in the playoffs. But among all the accolades he collected over the season, it was clear that none meant more to him than the MLS Cup he and his Atlanta United teammates lifted on Saturday night, the first title of the 25-year-old’s professional career.
“We wanted this a lot – the people, the city, our family – they’re the ones that suffer these moments the most,” Martinez told reporters in his postgame press conference. “I don’t have a lot of words to say how happy I am to become a champion for the first time.”
The occasion represented the ultimate – and likely final – journey for Martinez alongside teammate Miguel Almiron, who has been strongly linked to a move abroad this offseason, and head coach Tata Martino, who has already announced that he will depart the club at the end of the season.
“It was a very important week for me,” Martinez said. “When I had a chance to go out and wait for Miguel, we looked at each other face to face. Before the game I told him that I wanted to thank him for the two years that he gave me and that we didn’t have a more beautiful opportunity like this one. And I asked him to please help me become a champion because I never had the opportunity to be a champion.
“Many things go through your head because these are moments you rarely live.”
His goal came in typically opportunistic fashion. In the later moments of the first half, he pounced on a second ball after a sliding tackle from Michael Parkhurst before using his speed to beat his one remaining defender and round the goalkeeper for an easy finish. Or at least, he made it look easy.
“A lot of things [were going through my mind] because apart from how the play came about I had to keep a cool head,” Martinez said, recalling his previous encounter with the Timbers this year. “The last time we played here, I had five chances and couldn’t score one.”
This time, he was able to find the back of the net against the side that had frustrated him back in June, for goal No. 35 on the year. And out of all those goals, which was his favorite? It look him a split second to answer.