THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
A historic year in any League deserves recognition and praise, but Josef Martinez of Atlanta United deserves more than most for the incredible season that he had down in Georgia. It was a record-breaking season for the former Torino front man as he broke the single season goal total and did so comfortably, scoring 31 times to pass the mark of 27 set by Bradley Wright-Phillips, Chris Wondowlowski and Roy Lassiter. Martinez also played an integral part in Atlanta’s run through the MLS season and the postseason playoffs, scoring crucial goals to see them in the final.
Martinez also broke two more impressive records during the course of the season by scoring in nine consecutive games and grabbed his sixth hat-trick during his time with the Five Stripes, a record amount for a single player in MLS history. Others, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney, may have had iconic moments and grabbed more headlines around the world than Martinez, but there is no denying that the Venezuelan was the MVP of the season and could have put a case forward for winning the vote by a larger margin.
Zlatan came second in the voting and second in the scoring charts — both times behind Martinez — but while the
future of Atlanta’s attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron is uncertain and Coach
Tata Martino is departing at the end of the season, the franchise knows that with Martinez on their books, they have a bonafide superstar and a franchise player who has the ability to lead the team to further success in the future.
When the postseason schedule was released and seedings were officially wrapped up at the end of the regular season, you would have been forgiven for expecting a strong run from one of, if not both of, New York City FC and Los Angeles FC given their respective campaigns. Instead, what we saw was two teams that could have been so much better and rather than give us some classic games along the way, we got the opposite with LAFC crashing out in the first round against
Real Salt Lake in a controversial tie and NYCFC bowing out in tame fashion against a Atlanta side that was superior, but not unbeatable.
In NYCFC’s case, perhaps it was too much to expect a side that had a captain whose future was up in the air playing a team who had changed Coach and style halfway through the campaign. While they made the playoffs with ease in the end, it wasn’t without it’s bumps and bruises along the way. Over two legs, not many teams can beat Atlanta but you would expect a team with the players that NYCFC has to put up a better showing than they did.
As for LAFC, it’s ironic that if their neighbours the LA Galaxy had pipped RSL to that final playoff spot in the Western Conference, perhaps LAFC would have had that extra bit of motivation to get one over their rivals. Instead, they bowed out in a controversial match marred by the fans against an RSL team that had their number. Disappointing from both sides but at least this short playoff experience for these two sets of players and management will stand them in good stead for next season, when more will be expected from them.
Football is meant to be an escapism from reality. When you buy your ticket and enter the stadium through the turnstiles, whatever is happening on the outside is barricaded off by what you’re about to witness on the inside. If you have troubles on the outside, you leave them at the gates and forget about them for the 90 minutes of action on the field.
Unfortunately, some spectators are unable to take in the game and not act like complete idiots, in particular during the match between LAFC and Real Salt Lake. The game itself should be remembered as a thriller, a great advertisement of what MLS can offer but instead what we saw was Nick Rimando, the RSL goalkeeper, pelted with trash after his side equalised, delaying the game for five minutes.
It was a game that should have had onlookers fawning over the quality on show, the style of play and the excitement that came along with it but in the aftermath there was little choice but to ignore the action and focus on the trouble, which shouldn’t be the case in this day and age. LAFC and the official supporters group, the 3252, released a statement condemning not only the throwing of objects but also homophobic chants from a minority of fans when Rimando was taking a goalkick.
It was a memorable tie, a classic MLS fixture if there ever was one, but now it will go down as the game with the trash-throwing and homophobic abuse, the opposite of what the sport should be about.
ABOVE:THE GOOD, Josef MartinezABOVE LEFT:THE BAD, NYCFC/ LAFCLEFT:THE UGLY, Nick Rimando