Many of MLS's best players have
not been its biggest names, but players who sought out a new home or second chance and thrived in the league.
Players like Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored 105 goals over the last five seasons. MVPs like Sebastian Giovinco (2015) and Diego Valeri (2017).
And Josef Martinez, the 2018 MVP.
Martinez, who shattered the MLS scoring record shared by Wright-Phillips and two other players and led Atlanta United to the MLS Cup title in its second season, was rewarded with a five-year contract extension that will last through the 2023 season.
The Venezuelan, 25, struggled in six seasons in Switzerland (Young Boys and Thun) and Italy (Torino), but he matched his total production in Europe with 19 goals in his first season in MLS and following that up with a record 31 in 2018.
He also scored four goals in five playoff games, including the first goal in the 2-0 win over Portland in MLS Cup.
“This means a lot to me because of the affection that the fans have shown me, that the fans show all of the players. It’s unique,” Martinez said. “They recognize the effort that you give and they know you did everything to win, and I think that’s why we love playing here. I have to thank everyone. My teammates, the city, my family and friends, because this is a dream I’ve always had. I’ve said before that I don’t want to go anywhere because this is my home. You can expect more work, more intensity, because that’s who I am. I want to win. I want to do everything for my teammates and for the city.”
Martinez says fans back home in Venezuela don't under his decision to stay with the Five Stripes, who bought out his contract in 2017.
“They're saying negative things about me because they have a mediocre mentality," he said. "For them, they think I should be playing in Real Madrid. For me, this is my Barcelona or my Real Madrid. It's not about me being a star. This team has 11 stars on the field, plus all the substitutes in the team, plus everyone who works here at the club. That’s the important thing.”
Martinez, who made $1.38 million in guaranteed compensation in 2018, said the salary bump was not a factor in his decision.
“I came from a humble neighborhood, so one dollar more or less isn't going to change who I am,” Martinez said. “I'm not worried about the money. If I was, I'd go play in China. That's not why I chose here. It's because of the affection and the care that everyone has shown me from both the club and the city. That's what's important.”
Photos: Atlanta United