MVP Martinez signs 5-year extension with Atlanta United

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ATLANTA (AP) — Major League Soccer MVP Josef Martinez kept insisting he was happy with Atlanta United.

He backed it up Wednesday by signing a five-year contract extension with the MLS Cup champion, ending any questions about whether might be looking for another shot in Europe after a record season.

No terms were released on a deal that runs through the 2023 season, but Martinez figured to get a hefty increase over the $1.4 million in guaranteed salary he received last season.

The 25-year-old Venezuelan scored 31 goals in 2018, easily eclipsing the MLS record. He added four more goals in the playoffs, leading Atlanta United to a league championship in just its second season.

Martinez became the first player in league history to capture the MVP award for the regular season, the All-Star Game and the MLS Cup in the same year.

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Martinez initially came to Atlanta United on loan from Torino in Serie A. After struggling in Italy’s top division, the striker thrived with the MLS expansion team, scoring 19 goals in 20 games his first season despite missing extensive time with a quadriceps injury sustained while playing for his national team.

He took his totals even higher this past year, demonstrating an ability to score with either foot and especially with his head — a credit to his fearlessness in front of the goal despite his short stature, which is generously listed as 5-foot-7.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Martinez stressed that he is comfortable in Atlanta and has no desire to take another shot at playing in a top European league. United has set numerous attendance records over its two season, averaging more than 53,000 per game in 2018.

“I’ve said before that I don’t want to go anywhere because this is my home,” he said. “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.”

In the MLS Cup title game last month, Martinez scored the opening goal and assisted on the second in a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers.

“Josef is an exciting, dynamic player and has proven himself to be one of the best in MLS over the past two seasons,” team president Darren Eales said. “We’re excited to secure Josef’s long-term future in Atlanta and we look forward to celebrating many more accomplishments together.”

Atlanta United opened training camp Tuesday, in preparation for its first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League next month. The MLS season begins March 3.

Martinez thrived under previous coach Tata Martino, who left after the season to take over the Mexican national team. He was replaced by former Dutch star and Ajax coach Frank de Boer, who looks forward to working with the record-setting striker.

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“As a manager, he’s the type of player you want on your team because he is intensely focused and you can count on him every time he steps on the field,” de Boer said.

Notes: United also announced that defender Franco Escobar will miss six-to-eight weeks after sustaining a fractured right clavicle during the first day of training. He was a key player during Atlanta’s championship run, scoring two goals in the playoffs after netting just one during the regular season. The injury puts a strain on United’s depth, which already figured to be tested heading into a season that includes the extra demands of the Champions League. Escobar could miss the first two rounds of the continental championship, as well as the opening weeks of the MLS regular season.


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