Josef Martinez - Atlanta United - celebration - team
USA Today Sports

After epic '18, Atlanta's Martinez sets sights on Concacaf Champions League

FULLERTON, Calif. – Josef Martinez obliterated Major League Soccer's goalscoring record last season, snagging the MVP award and leading second-year side Atlanta United to the MLS Cup championship.

The Venezuelan striker netted 31 goals, plus four more in the postseason, after scoring 19 in 20 games his first season in the league. How does he top that in 2019?

“Every year is different,” Martinez said in Spanish after Atlanta beat a squad of Club Tijuana U-17s, U-20s and reserve players Wednesday afternoon at their preseason base at Cal State Fullerton. “But this year we're playing in Concacaf [Champions League].

“We have a lot of opportunities to be in different competitions this year, but if we win [CCL] and I have a similar year to last year, then I think I should retire.”

Not much chance of that. Martinez last month signed a new deal through 2023, calling Atlanta “my Barcelona or Real Madrid,” and he's responded with a terrific start to this year's preparations. He's scored six goals and assisted three more in one-sided wins at Titan Stadium over Seattle Sounders FC and Tijuana, bagging four and setting up the other two in the 6-1 rout over the Mexican side.

“For a striker, it's always nice to score goals, how simple they can be. It's simple for the confidence,” first-year coach Frank de Boer said. “He's looking good, but I also give him compliments for his defensive work. Sometimes somebody's out of position, [and] he's taking over [that position defensively].

“That means a lot [not just for me], but also for his teammates, that he's sacrificing sometimes also to do the dirty work and not just score goals.”

De Boer, a top defender at Ajax and Barcelona, among other clubs, and in 112 caps for the Netherlands, has emphasized defense in camp, more so than did Tata Martino in his two seasons in charge.

“I think things are a little different [with De Boer], but we all know he was a great player and a great coach throughout his career in Europe,” Martinez said. “Now he's here, and he wants us to defend well, and we're working on all the things that he's trying to teach us. We've only been here about a month, but we're just trying to work and incorporate the things he wants us to do.

“I think we're having a strong preseason, getting used to new formations, new lineups. We've got a bunch of new players on the team who will have to get adapted to what we're doing, but I think these games in the preseason are going to serve us well.”

The biggest offseason addition is Argentine midfielder Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, acquired from River Plate. Martinez is excited to work with him, and he's anticipating more from Ezequiel Barco – who has impressed at Fullerton – in his second MLS campaign.

“Pity, he's a great player,” Martinez said. “I know playing with him, all I have to do is make the right movements and he's going to find me. We know the kind of player he is. He showed it when he was at River Plate.”

Barco is Martinez's roommate in camp.

“I think when he first got here, it took him some time to adapt to the league and everything,” the striker said. “We all know the kind of player that he is. That's the player that we want him to be, to be the Barco he can be.”

Martinez wants more trophies – Champions League and another MLS Cup foremost among them – and he's going to have score plenty of goals if that will happen. How many is he aiming for in 2019?

He isn't.

“No,” he said. “Just score the first goal. That's the most important.”

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