FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Having coached four teams in MLS dating back to its inaugural season in 1996, Bruce Arena has seen his fair share of great strikers come through the league.
Last Sunday, the New England Revolution head coach and sporting director got an in-person, business-end view of another forward staking his claim as one of the best in MLS history: Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez.
The Venezuelan scored the eventual match-winning goal in the 49th minute of the Five Stripes’ 3-1 win over the Revs on Decision Day presented by AT&T. The strike featured a defense-splitting, back-shoulder run by Martinez, last season’s Landon Donovan MVP and MLS Golden Boot winner, and an impeccable far-post finish of Julian Gressel’s deft pass.
“He's different than a lot of the traditional strikers we've seen,” Arena said. “Josef is more of a central attacker — he’s not even a target player — as much as he runs off the ball and gets in good positions. Can finish with both feet, very aggressive, pacey player, and obviously a good finisher.”
Martinez has scored 77 goals in 83 regular-season games, which includes five career goals against the Revs, who head south again to play Atlanta on Oct. 19 in Round One of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs (1 pm ET | Univision, TUDN in US, TVAS, TSN4 in Canada).
New England defender Andrew Farrell paired with Toni Delamea in central defense last week, and says Martinez – the third-leading scorer in MLS this season with 27 goals – continually makes the run that led to his goal throughout every match.
“He's just a guy who’s hungry to score goals, so he'll always make that run in behind. Even if he's offside and if the ball is not played, he's always making that run,” Farrell said, adding that New England must do a better job of tracking Martinez, and pressuring players like Gressel who are constantly looking to spring him.
The Revs’ veteran also paid the Atlanta forward the ultimate compliment for a goalscorer.
“You’ve got to know where he is at all times,” Farrell said. “He could be out of the game for 78 minutes and then he’ll get one chance and he'll put it away.”
Ahead of a training session this week, Farrell said the Revs watched film of the game, specifically Martinez’s goal. And by the time the teams meet again next Saturday?
“We're going to probably watch it a couple more times,” Farrell said.