The last player to come out of Atlanta United and become a much more global name was Newcastle United’s Miguel Almiron. While the Paraguayan is yet to get into full gear, he hasn’t been terrible at all at Tyneside. As he continues to take time, another player has been emerging at Atlanta United in the form of Josef Martinez.
Martinez has almost become a well-known name in Major League Soccer. A lot of it is down to how he’s now spent a good number of months in the United States. But the rest of it is down to how he’s grown in stature and has improved his abilities in the MLS. His coach probably has a free phone tracker on him to make sure he is working as hard as possible.
Still 26, Martinez came to Atlanta from Serie A side Torino. The move had come after he was struggling for gametime at Il Toro and having reached a crucial point in his career, the move to the MLS came. In his three-year-long spell at the Grande Torino, Martinez scored 13 times and got six assists.
But the manner in which his career has changed at Atlanta is worth watching. In the 2017 MLS season, Martinez made 20 appearances for the club. He got 19 goals and racked up one assist. The Venezuelan, in the process, went past his best goalscoring season from his time at Young Boys in Switzerland.
In the 2018 campaign of the MLS, his numbers became even better. In 39 MLS appearances, the striker tore the opposition defences to shreds. He got 35 goals and as many as six assists. He was the league’s highest scorer in that campaign, ahead of the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Bradley Wright-Phillips.
In the 2019 season of the competition, he didn’t score as much. But his influence remained the same. Martinez got 27 goals in just 29 games, assisting thrice. He played fewer games and finished third in the top scorers’ list behind Ibrahimovic and the mercurial Carlos Vela.
Now 26, he has finally succeeded in making himself a prominent figure in the game. Staying in Turin could have led to a different consequence, playing in a physical and tactical league. But playing in a slightly less demanding league has helped him develop in the right way.
He’s become a fighter too and Brad Guzan recently talked of that. The former Aston Villa goalkeeper said: “The thing about Joe is he’s a fighter, He’s a competitor. When you cross the white lines, you want him on your team. He’s a warrior out there.”
Martinez isn’t the quickest on the ball. He is just a very good finisher, who took four shots on goal per game this past season. That is more than he ever did in a single season. It led to him having a higher goals tally, even when he played only 32 games.
He also played 20 passes per game this past season, completing them with an accuracy of 80 percent. That is the best amount of passing stats he’s had in his career- a proof of how it isn’t just his goals that are improving. And improving technically saw him win only 0.9 aerial duels per game- the lowest since he came to the States.
It shows that teams don’t want him for his goals only. He has a fire in his belly and a bit of everything in his arsenal. And after Almiron, he could be the next South American in Atlanta who secures a move to Europe next. There’s every chance of that.