Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez is quite simply scoring goals at a rate not before seen in Major League Soccer history. Can he become the most effective goal scorer in league history?

Early signs look promising. Last Saturday, he cemented his name in MLS record books by tying the career hat trick mark in only his 34th regular season game. That’s the equivalent of one full MLS season. In those games, he’s managed an incredible 31 goals, four more than the single-season record of 27 shared by Chris WondolowskiBradley Wright-Phillips and Roy Lassiter. He seeks to add to his league-leading tally Saturday against New York City FC (12:30 pm ET | TV & streaming information).

“It’s so impressive, the goalscoring stream that he’s on,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst told media Friday. “When you break it down to the games played over the full course of a season and the hat trick games, it’s really impressive. Some people will say ‘It’s because he plays at Mercedes-Benz [Stadium], Atlanta scores a lot of goals, he has good players around him,’ but he’d be scoring goals with any team in this league.

“And most important is his competitiveness. If he scores 2 goals in the 80th minute or scores to put us ahead late in the game, he’s upset coming off the field. And you like to see that because he’s a competitor and wants to score goals to help the team win.”

If there’s any player that could put Martinez’s MLS goal-scoring exploits in perspective, it’s Parkhurst. The veteran center back, who has racked up more than 100 appearances in Europe and more than 200 in MLS, says Martinez’s positioning creates havoc for defenses – despite the fact that he’s been called offside more than any player in the league.

“It’s his mentality, his fearlessness in the box, his willingness to get in behind defenders,” explained Parkhurst. “He’s smarter than you think. Yeah, he’s called offside a lot, but some of that is on purpose. To play off the shoulder of defenders, it’s really difficult for center backs. It’s really hard when [strikers] play on that line of offside because you never know if that left back or right back is on the same line as me. It takes a lot of trust. Sometimes he’ll get called offside, but other times he’ll score on a breakaway.”

Atlanta manager Tata Martino says that Martinez will only improve, as he’s actually relatively new to his position as a central striker. That’s a scary thought for opposing defenses. Martino says Martinez reminds him of another prolific goal scorer he managed at Newell’s Old Boys, Nacho Scocco, who adapted to a new position and is now thriving as River Plate’s starting striker.

“Josef came here without really having played much as a center striker before — at least not with his national team — because [West Bromwich Albion striker] Salomon Rondon plays that position and Josef plays off of him,” Martino said through a translator. “I don’t know about at Torino, but with his national team, he hadn’t played this position much. He came in here and he’s adapted really well and you can see that.”

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