ROUNDBALL DAILY

Josef Martinez is lighting up MLS like few players in history

Image: USA TODAY Sports

Every once in a while, a star comes around whose excellence is too singularly exceptional to ignore (even if he’s playing soccer).

Think James Harden last year. Or Rickey Henderson in 1982 (the man stole 130 bases!).

This summer, while the most interesting thing going on in basketball since free agency has been CJ McCollum’s Twitter account, a similarly standout athlete has taken Major League Soccer by storm.

Josef Martinez, a 25-year-old striker from Venezuela, has been lighting up the league like no one else in the history of the sport.

The Atlanta United phenom came to MLS in 2017 from Torino F.C. in Serie A, Italy’s top league. He wasn’t much of a scorer or an impact player there, but since taking his exceptional footballing talents to the Deep South, he’s made MLS look about as daunting as a youth soccer jamboree.

Martinez is running by guys like 1987 Jerry Rice, outclassing listless and overmatched defenders like Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl, and finishing in all sorts of creative ways. He’s scored on headers, misdirection moves, lasers from the edge of the box–just about every way possible.

Last weekend, the Caracas, Venezuela native notched his record-breaking 28th goal of the season, passing the New York Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips, who was doing his footballing in the U.K.’s EFL Championship, a step below the Premier League, before he also came over and started dominating the American outfit.

As impressive as Wright-Phillips has been in his career, Martinez is on pace to outrun his record like a sorry defender he just left in the dust, faking an injury at midfield.

Martinez still has 8 games left to play, and he’s averaging more than a goal per (1.07). He could end up pushing the all-time mark to 35-plus.

His outstanding season has buoyed Atlanta United to the top of the Eastern Conference standings (they held a 2-point lead over the Red Bulls heading into Wednesday night), and given the club’s rabid fans a dream-like season to scream about.

Fittingly, Martinez even scored in the MLS All-Star Game against Juventus, the only goal of the game for the MLS Stars, who walked away with a 1-1 draw. It was especially apropos because the game was played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, in front of 50,000-plus fans.

At this point, there’s no doubt–Josef is the league’s MVP, and he just may carry Atlanta United to the Supporters’ Shield and home field advantage throughout the MLS playoffs.

So with his speed, remarkable ball skills, and terrific feel for the net, would Martinez be able to crack it in, say…the Premier League?

Is he, as the British announcers say: Of that quality?

Your boy here, who’s been watching soccer as far back as June, isn’t even remotely qualified to answer that question.

But I can tell you that this summer, during the NBA’s dead period and in the middle of an interminable baseball season, this dude has been the most exciting thing in sports to watch.

If nothing else, that’s a win for the MLS–and something soccer fans from Marietta to¬†Maracaibo should be thrilled about.

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