Josef Martinez set a single-season MLS record for goals and has helped lead Atlanta United to MLS Cup.
To the goal-scorers usually goes the individual hardware. When the goal totals are record-setting, the case strengthens even more.
So it should be little surprise that the 2018 MLS MVP award was given to Atlanta United's Josef Martinez on Wednesday, just days before his side hosts the Portland Timbers in MLS Cup. Martinez's 31 goals broke the single-season MLS record of 27 previously held by Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips. His three playoff goals have given him 34 in the regular season and postseason combined, breaking Lassiter's record of 33 set in the league's inaugural 1996 season.
Martinez bested a star-laden field of finalists, with teammate Miguel Almiron finishing second, followed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Vela, respectively. The voting wasn't particularly close, with Martinez garnering 47.93% of the weighted vote taken by players, club management and media members. Almiron was next at 15.03%, followed by Ibrahimovic at 11.6%.
The 25-year-old Martinez was ruthlessly efficient with his chances, scoring his 31 regular-season goals on 97 shots (56 on target) and his three playoff goals on six shots (all on target). He slowed his scoring pace considerably down the stretch, scoring "just" three goals in Atlanta's final eight games. That followed a stretch during which he scored in 13 of 14 games, tallying 20 goals in that time and culminating with his record-setter vs. Orlando City. The only team he failed to score against during that time was his MLS Cup final opponent, Portland.
Almiron, Ibrahimovic, Rooney and Vela each had strong cases, and in any other season, perhaps they'd be the ones receiving the trophy.
Almiron, like Martinez, was vital to Atlanta's success, with 12 goals and 14 assists in the regular season. He's added a goal and an assist in the playoffs and is widely reported to be drawing Premier League interest ahead of a potential winter transfer.
Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, took MLS by storm from his opening match, delivering the Goal of the Year and the eventual winner in a memorable 4-3 victory over new rival LAFC. He finished with 22 goals and 10 assists in just 27 matches, but not even the self-proclaimed "lion" could bring the Galaxy to the playoffs, as they missed out on the final see in the Western Conference with a loss to the Houston Dynamo in their season finale.
Rooney, another former Man United star like Ibrahimovic, also found success upon his arrival in MLS. His was a midseason one, but he helped take D.C. United from last place in the Eastern Conference to fourth, which resulted in a home playoff game (and ultimately a loss to the Columbus Crew in penalties). He scored 12 goals and had seven assists in 20 matches after coming over from Everton in July and completely transformed the club's outlook.
Lastly, Vela was instrumental in LAFC's inaugural season, which was the best regular season for an expansion team (57 points) in league history. He scored 14 goals and added 13 assists in 28 games, missing some time for Mexico's run at the World Cup. LAFC wound up falling to the No. 6 seed Real Salt Lake in the one-off elimination round, though Vela notched an assist on one of LAFC's goals in the 3-2 defeat on a free kick.
The trophy belongs to Martinez, who becomes the first Venezuelan to win the award and the first Golden Boot winner since Sebastian Giovinco in 2015–and eighth all-time–to take home the honors.