By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on February 7, 2024.
Josef Martinez isn’t scoring at the goal-per-game rate he used to in Major League Soccer.
But the 30-year-old striker believes he still has a lot to give, especially to a developing club like CF Montreal.
“We know they have a young team, and I want to come here to help the culture and follow my dreams,” Martinez said Wednesday from Montreal’s training camp in Kissimmee, Fla.
“I still have the energy, and I want to continue to make history here.”
Montreal signed Martinez – one of the most prolific goal scorers in MLS history – to a one-year contract with an option for another year Tuesday.
Although the Venezuelan’s production has dropped in recent years due to injury, it’s a major move for a Montreal side that had the league’s lowest payroll last year and rarely attracts marquee players as a usual seller in the transfer market.
In January, club president Gabriel Gervais outlined lofty expectations of making the MLS playoffs and contending, winning the Canadian Championship and returning to the CONCACAF Champions League in new head coach Laurent Courtois’s first season.
Since then, Montreal has bolstered its offence by adding Uruguayan striker Matias Coccaro, Bulgarian-Canadian attacking midfielder Dominic Iankov – and now Martinez.
Martinez says the team’s direction and confidence in his play enticed him to make the move.
“They have a dream, they have a culture, and I want to be part of that,” Martinez said of his new club. “I want to try to win – win a trophy and win games to conquer in the playoffs and win everything. That’s why I decided to (come) here.”
With his track record, Martinez should also help Montreal’s offensive woes after the club scored 36 times in 34 MLS games last season and missed the playoffs by two points.
Martinez’s 105 MLS goals with Atlanta United and Inter Miami rank ninth in league history. While chasing titles with Montreal, he’ll also be trying to track down Chris Wondolowski’s 171-goal record – something he says is a reason he wanted to stay in MLS.
“In my mind, I want to reach Wondo – that’s my thing, that’s my goal, that’s my dream – and help the team to win trophies,” Martinez said.
In 2018, Martinez won both the regular-season MVP and MLS Cup MVP awards as Atlanta United won the title.
He also became the fastest player in league history to reach the century mark with 100 goals in his first 125 games, but his production hasn’t been the same since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in 2020.
Martinez scored 12 goals in 24 league games in 2021, followed by nine in 26 in 2022 – his last with Atlanta.
Although he scored just seven times in 27 MLS outings with Miami, Martinez, who insists he doesn’t have any problems with his knee anymore, would have led Montreal in scoring.
He’s hoping he can raise the bar with Coccaro this season.
“He’s a tough guy, which is important for the league,” Martinez said of his 26-year-old teammate. “Hopefully we have a good match together and hopefully I can try to help because I have a little bit more experience in the league.”
Montreal took on Atlanta in pre-season action Wednesday night at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Before moving to MLS, Martinez played in Venezuela, Switzerland and Italy. He says Montreal reminds him of one of his previous stops.
“When I first came to Montreal I thought it looked like Switzerland. That’s what I like,” said Martinez, who suited up for Young Boys and FC Thun of the Swiss Super League from 2011 to 2014. “The cold is not that good but I’m OK with that.”
Martinez endeared himself to local fans by introducing himself in French atop the city’s Mont-Royal in a video posted to social media Tuesday.
“I’m very good with languages,” he said. “But I only know a couple words in French, that’s a language I want to learn because I speak five and I missed this one.”
LEARNING FROM MESSI
Martinez witnessed Lionel Messi’s heroic arrival at Inter Miami last season firsthand, producing three goals and two assists alongside the Argentine superstar en route to the Leagues Cup title.
Martinez says the 36-year-old Messi’s incessant desire to win despite his long list of accolades – which includes a FIFA World Cup and four UEFA Champions League titles – impressed him the most.
“Man, every time we went to the locker room, we were so impressed because this one guy, he’s won everything and he’s still hungry to conquer,” Martinez said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.