Viva El Rey! Josef Martinez, nicknamed "The King" at Atlanta United, scored two second-half goals against his former team Saturday in a 2-1 win at DRV PNK Stadium.
The goals were his first for Inter Miami after going scoreless in his first 497 minutes with La Rosanegra. They were the 99th and 100th goals of the Venezuelan international's MLS career, making him the fastest in league history to reach the century mark (142 matches). His scores -- a made penalty kick on his first touch of the night and a beautiful sliding redirection to the far post -- came after he was subbed on in the 57th minute and helped him earn his first MLS Team of the Matchday selection as a Heron.
Miami Herald soccer writer Michelle Kaufman, reported that Martinez "called the night 'the strangest moment of my life,' adding that he just wanted to go home. 'I was out there after with my son, with friends I have known a long time, with people who were with me at the most difficult moments of my career, so it feels strange,' he said. 'It is a mix of joy and sadness.'" (Read Michelle's full match report here.)
Martinez was the face of Atlanta United as recently as last season and despite a drop-off in production after a serious knee injury in 2020. He scored 82 goals in his first three seasons with the club, including a then-MLS-record 35 goals and 16 assists in 2018, when he won the Landon Donovan Most Valuable Player Award and led Atlanta to its only MLS Cup championship.
He injured his knee in the first match of 2020 and never has regained the form that made him one of the league's most effervescent talents. The team's success waned, as well, further frustrating the striker. By the end of 2022 it was clear Martinez needed a change of scenery -- a change Inter Miami was more than happy to offer.
It's unrealistic to expect Martinez, 29, to be a 20-goal scorer at this point in his career, but he showed against Atlanta that, despite his disappointing seven-match drought during which he shot just once every 41.4 minutes, he can still be productive. I said before the season I thought 12-15 goals is a reasonable expectation of the iconic striker. With 24 matches left, I stand (nervously) by my prediction.
Expect to see Neville revisit his original plan of starting Martinez and Leonardo Campana together at forward. Campana a more traditional target at the tip of the spear, has shown the ability to move with the ball and hit the open runner; Martinez isn't as quick as he once was, but he still can use his experience and instincts to find seams in the defense and make creative runs. I look forward to seeing whether the two can combine those skills to put points on the board.