Josef Martinez picks up MLS goal-scoring crown with winner for Atlanta
Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez scored the game winner in United's 2-1 victory over Orlando City on Friday night in central Florida, a goal also significant as his 28th of the year, setting the new single-season Major League Soccer record. Below are my three quick thoughts from a contentious Rivalry Week match at Orlando City Stadium.
1. All hail the new goal king
Roy Lassiter's record had stood for 22 seasons, dating back to the inaugural MLS campaign. The former Tampa Bay Mutiny forward's mark had been equaled twice -- by the San Jose Earthquakes' Chris Wondolowski in 2012 and Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls in 2014 -- but never surpassed. Until now.
And given how much of the season is still to play, Martinez's ultimate benchmark might stand for even longer than Lassiter's did.
Martinez has averaged more than a goal per game, and with Atlanta still to play eight more matches in the regular season, his goal total is only likely to grow. Thirty-five is within reasonable reach. Forty sounds more outlandish, but with the way Martinez is playing, would you consider it completely outside the realm of possibility?
No. 28 was emblematic of Martinez's game. There was the helpful bit of service for his teammates, the controlling touch to set himself up and the technically sound chipped finish -- plus the trademark ruthlessness of staring down Orlando keeper Joe Bendik after it went in.
Martinez has made it look so easy that it's tempting to overlook the scale of his accomplishment, but this is a record that stood for 22 years. Friday was a momentous occasion.
2. Atlanta took care of business
On paper, this looked straightforward enough. This was the most potent attack in the league (53 goals prior to Friday) vs. MLS' leakiest defense. But perhaps unsurprisingly, playing on the road in a regional rivalry game, Atlanta was made to work for it.
Although Orlando cannot keep goals out, the Lions are capable of scoring them, and Scott Sutter's goal in the 39th minute was a nice one. Sutter whistled an absolute rope of a volley past United goalkeeper Brad Guzan and into the back of the net, giving the home fans the fleeting sensation that this might be their night.
It wasn't. Atlanta is too versatile, too good.
With the Red Bulls and New York City FC, United's two closest challengers in the Supporters' Shield race, having drawn on Wednesday night, this was a golden opportunity to open up a five-point lead atop the standings. Atlanta took advantage of it, and it is going to take some chasing down now.
3. Orlando City is a mess ...
... and a clear example of the value of continuity.
The Lions fired head coach Jason Kreis back on June 15, hoping that such a drastic change might nudge what was then a fringe playoff contender over the cutoff line. To say the least, that hasn't been the case.
Orlando, the last-place team in the Eastern Conference, has now earned just four points from its past 16 games. It is now 1-6-1 under new coach James O'Connor, who came with a decent résumé from his time with the club's USL affiliate but has been unable to stop the bleeding.
It already feels as though Orlando is starting to lose the goodwill of a fan base that surprised many around the league by turning out in droves early on -- and that can be expected to tolerate such bad soccer for only so long.