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Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez named 2018 MLS MVP

Atlanta United FC's Josef Martinez was voted as the 2018 Major League Soccer MVP. He accepted the award on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 in Atlanta. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

ATLANTA — In just his second MLS season, Josef Martinez is quickly filling up his trophy case.

The Atlanta United FC striker took home Major League Soccer’s Golden Boot award earlier this year after breaking the single season MLS record for goals scored. Combined with his postseason totals, the 25-year-old Venezuelan has tallied 34 goals this season and six assists.

Martinez is simply one of the most dynamic scorers the 23-year-old league has seen.

And on Wednesday in Atlanta, he was awarded for highlight-filled second season in MLS. At the family offices of Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank, Martinez was given the league’s MVP award for the 2018 season.

The trophy was presented to Martinez by Lino DiCuollo, the league’s special vice president of player relations and competition. In attendance to congratulate Martinez were Blank, Atlanta United president Darren Eales, the club’s technical director Carlos Bocanegra, and Martinez’s grandparents, aunt and niece.

“He’s the greatest pure goal-scorer MLS has ever had,” said Eales, who added that Martinez “leaps like a salmon” and “strikes like a cobra.”

When talking to the media at the club’s training grounds or after games this season, Martinez typically speaks in Spanish and lets a club spokesperson translate for him. But after climbing the stage to accept the award on Wednesday, an emotional Martinez spoke to the crowd in English.

“Thank you to the God for my teammates,” Martinez said. “They are great. They are important. I also want to say thank you to the fans for amazing support this year.”

He then switched to Spanish to share more thoughts on winning the award, before ending with an English line that delivered a laugh.

“I’m more comfortable (speaking Spanish),” Martinez said. “I’m more nervous right now than taking a penalty kick.”

Other finalists for the award included Martinez’s Atlanta teammate Miguel Almiron, LAFC’s Carlos Vela, D.C. United’s Wayne Rooney and LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Martinez garnered nearly 48 percent of the total vote and Almiron finished in second with about 15 percent of votes.

Almiron and Martinez were both MLS All-Stars this past season and named to the league’s Best XI. Many times this year, Martinez has credited his teammates — and Almiron specifically — for his success.

“Josef will be the first to tell you that award is a reflection of the great teamwork and the great coaching that he’s received this year,” Blank said. “That award belongs to everyone on this team. He’s a great striker and a great scorer but that’s because he’s put in the right position to take advantage of the talents that he has.”

Martinez added through a translator: “For my teammates, I told them the other day before training that this is a collective award and I couldn’t have done it without them. And if I could, I would cut up the trophy and give each one of them a little piece, because it really is a group effort.”

The voting for the Landon Donovan Most Valuable Player Award was rounded out by New York Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips, D.C. United’s Luciano Acosta and Montreal Impact’s Ignacio Piatti. The award is voted on by players, club staffs and media members.

MLS Most Valuable Player Player % Club % Media % Final %
Josef Martinez (ATL) 50.00% 42.45% 51.35% 47.93%
Miguel Almirón (ATL) 13.95% 17.92% 13.21% 15.03%
Zlatan Ibrahimović (LAG) 8.14%    12.26% 14.41% 11.60%
Wayne Rooney (DC)         4.07%    9.43%    9.91%    7.80%
Carlos Vela (LAFC) 4.65% 9.43% 1.80% 5.29%
Bradley Wright-Phillips (NYRB) 4.65%    4.72% 5.11%    4.83%
Luciano Acosta (DC)          5.23%    0.94%    0.60% 2.26%
Ignacio Piatti (MTL)          0.58% 2.83%    2.70% 2.04%

Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra, club president Darren Eales and team owner Arthur Blank with Josef Martinez after he was given the 2018 MLS MVP award on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 in Atlanta. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

In his second season in MLS, Martinez scored a league-high 10 game-winning goals, equaled the MLS record of nine consecutive matches with a goal and recorded his MLS record sixth career hat trick, which is the most all-time by any player. He has averaged .912 goals per-game this season. Martinez scored nine more goals this season than Ibrahimovic, who finished second in the league’s Golden Boot race.

Atlanta United’s attack — spearheaded by Martinez’s acrobats, precision and heroics — outscored every MLS club this year and produced consecutive 70-goal seasons for the first time in MLS history. In the regular season, Martinez scored 16 goals at home, but he was also superb on the road, scoring 15 goals on unfamiliar pitches to help Atlanta produce the most road wins (10) and points (32) in the post-shootout era. Martinez also helped Atlanta United qualify for the 2019 Concacaf Champions League.

“(Martinez) has taken the city of Atlanta by storm and he has taken Major League Soccer by storm,” said ESPN’s Sebastian Salazar, who MC’ed the presentation.

Martinez is the fifth player in the history of professional sports in Atlanta to win an MVP award, joining three Atlanta Braves — Chipper Jones, Terry Pendelton and Dale Murphy — and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons. The four filmed a video, congratulating Martinez, which was shown at the presentation.

A year ago, Martinez finished seventh in the league’s MVP voting.

“In my speech I couldn’t find enough words to thank the fans for all of the support they’ve given,” Martinez said. “The support has been incredible. In all of these triumphs that we’re having as a team, a lot of it is in great part due to the support of our fans.”

On Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, he and Atlanta United will face the 2017 MLS MVP Diego Valeri and the Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup Final. If victorious, Atlanta United will be the city’s first professional team to win a championship since the Braves did in 1995.

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