Football Features

MLS: Josef Martinez steps closer to Lionel Messi record as LA Galaxy roar back to form

By CJ Smith


Published: 12:23, 16 September 2019

It’s been another wild week in MLS as goals go in by the truckload and teams fight it out for those final play-off places.

For some, that battle to get into the top seven spots of their Conference now looks a bridge too far, while others are hitting form at the perfect time, clicking just as we prepare for the main event.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the best of MLS week 28.

1. Josef Martinez steps closer to Lionel Messi record

Josef Martinez’s complete disregard for the record books has been an absolute joy to behold over the last few seasons.

The Venezuelan bagged 35 goals last season to break the MLS single-season goalscoring record, picking up an MLS Cup winners’ medal and a league MVP award along the way.

This season, he’s targeting global records. Martinez’s opener in Atlanta’s shock 3-1 home defeat to Columbus Crew at the weekend took the 26-year-old to 14 consecutive MLS games on the scoresheet, dating all the way back to the Five Stripes’ trip to Real Salt Lake in May.

That now puts him just seven behind none other than Lionel Messi’s global record 21-game scoring streak for Barcelona, set in the 2013/14 season – the Argentine bagged a remarkable 33 goals during that run. He’s got some way to go, but matching the Barca forward would be a remarkable achievement.

Carlos Vela is likely to be this year’s MVP, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic is always going to grab the headlines as long as he’s stateside, but there is absolutely nobody quite like Martinez in MLS. He knows nothing but winning and having him in this goalscoring stride will always make Atlanta dangerous heading into the play-offs.

2. Zlatan inspires LA Galaxy to vital win

Let’s not beat around the bush, with or without Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy have been absolutely terrible over the past few months and before this weekend, had won just one of their last eight MLS games, which has seen them somehow slip below the play-off line in the Western Conference.

Well, they’re back in now, and how. Despite going 1-0 down in the first half on Sunday, an Ibrahimovic hat-trick inspired the Galaxy into a stunning 7-1 lead over Sporting KC, who did manage to pull a late goal back through Felipe Gutierrez to make it, well, it was still embarrassing so let’s move on.

This clash finally showed us just what chemistry can be struck up between Ibrahimovic, Argentina international Cristian Pavon and the likes of Uriel Antuna and Joe Corona. Fans will hope this is finally where Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s men move away from their rudimentary, “launch it at Zlatan at all costs” style of play and start showing the class their talent level suggests.

Just as Martinez has been breaking records, Ibrahimovic has now set the LA Galaxy club record for goals in a single season, going past Carlos Ruiz’s tally 24 from 2002 to sit on 26, with a good portion of the season still remaining.

Was he modest about it? No. “I think I’m the best-ever player in MLS. And that’s without joking,” he said after the match. Is he right? Probably not. Would he really be Zlatan if he didn’t keep us all entertained like this, though? Absolutely not.

3. Toronto FC move up the gears

Toronto FC won every trophy they played for in 2017 but since then, they will admit themselves, it’s been a little bit of a struggle. For a long time this season, it looked like they might miss out on the play-offs once again but since they got the likes of Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley back from international duty, the Canadian side have been unstoppable, going seven games unbeaten and playing some of the most attractive football you’re likely to see.

Bradley has been a pass master at the base of midfield, Altidore a bully up top and Alejandro Pozuelo has barely relented in his creative brilliance, even if he did miss a penalty against NYCFC in the week.

Toronto took a point from the Bronx during that game, drawing 1-1, while they beat Colorado Rapids 3-2 on Sunday to climb to fourth in the East. It may only be in short, unsustainable stabs – meaning an MLS Cup win might be off the cards – but when Toronto hit top gear, they’re ruthless.

This will make them a bull in a china shop during the play-offs and Greg Vanney’s side may break a few hearts yet between now and November 10.

MLS 2019 Golden Boot race

Carlos Vela (LAFC) – 28
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy) – 26
Josef Martinez (Atlanta United) – 24
Diego Rossi (LAFC) – 15

4. FC Cincinnati finally win to hold off unwanted record

Last week, FC Cincinnati were smashed 5-1 by Toronto to make it eight defeats in nine MLS games. Perhaps more embarrassingly, that loss took them to a staggering 72 goals conceded in 29 games, just two behind the single-season record set by Orlando City in 2018.

So, even coming up against a Montreal Impact side who themselves are in miserable form, who would have backed Cincy to not only win, but to do it with a clean sheet away from home, too?

Allan Cruz gave the visitors the lead inside the first minute and from there, it really was backs to the wall, bunker in and defend with your lives.

Montreal completed 406 passes to Cincinnati’s 277, outshot the away side 17-8 and won the corner battle 8-3. But, even despite a Kendall Waston red card for Cincy late on, Ron Jans’ men held out to take a morale-boosting three points.

That Cincy will break that horrific goals conceded record is perhaps more certain than Ibrahimovic making another headline this season but still, it will be interesting to see if Jans can use this win as a platform after what has been a horrorshow MLS debut season.

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5. Arise, Nani

The signing of Nani was supposed to be the final piece of the jigsaw in Orlando City’s longstanding hunt to reach the MLS play-offs. However, while the Portuguese has been respectable, he’s just not set Exploria Stadium alight as many thought he would.

These past couple of games have given us a glimpse of what Orlando and Nani could become next season, though, with the ex-Man Utd winger following up his goal against LAFC with a brace and an assist against New England Revolution, coming from 3-1 down to draw 3-3.

Alongside Nani, the likes of Chris Mueller and Dom Dwyer give Orlando some pretty talented attackers. While their star man will likely shoulder much of the blame for this latest play-off failure, you have to point the finger at their defence, which has conceded eight goals in their last three games.

Until that is addressed, Nani or any other Designated Player can only do so much.