Opinion: Will Real Salt Lake Pursue Josef Martínez?

Oct 27, 2022, 5:00 PM
Justin Meram of Real Salt Lake embraces Josef Martínez of Atlanta United following Atlanta's 2-1 win on July 13, 2022, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Photo by Laura Dearden/Real Salt Lake)
(Photo by Laura Dearden/Real Salt Lake)

SALT LAKE CITY – Atlanta United will part ways with former MLS MVP and club record goal scorer Josef Martínez this winter according to a recent report from The Athletic. 

Martínez To RSL

The report, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the recent controversy surrounding Martínez, will inevitably create shockwaves across Major League Soccer front offices.

Real Salt Lake is a club that should look to sign Martínez following a 2022 campaign that saw RSL score 43 goals throughout the regular season.

Martínez, the 2022 MLS Goal of the Year recipient, is still under contract with Atlanta United, meaning, Real Salt Lake would be tasked with buying the Venezualan as opposed to signing him for free. His contract is set to expire on December 31, 2023. Furthermore, Martínez made a base salary of $3,750,000 in 2022.

If Real Salt Lake hopes to acquire Martínez, they would not only need to blow a club record transfer fee through the roof but they would also need to pay him an annual salary of nearly double the amount of what they pay Jefferson Savarino – the highest-paid player on the RSL roster currently.

If Real Salt Lake makes even an attempt at signing Martínez, the ownership group, which is yet to be in charge for a full off-season, would be sending a clear message to the rest of the league.

Martínez currently occupies a designated player tag. Fortunately, Real Salt Lake has space available to add designated players this off-season.

RSL Roster Decisions

It remains unknown how Real Salt Lake plans to change its goal-scoring woes during the upcoming off-season. Yesterday it was announced that the club did not pick up the option on Bobby Wood’s contract, suggesting that the former US Men’s National Team product will debut for a new club in 2023.

The future of Sergio Córdova, the club’s 2022 golden boot winner, at Real Salt Lake is also unknown. During last week’s exit interviews, RSL general manager Elliot Fall admitted that Córdova’s loan agreement is set to expire shortly. However, Córdova did not join RSL on loan from FC Augsburg with a permanent transfer option. It is possible that Córdova remains at RSL in 2023, but for that to occur, RSL and Augsburg need to agree to new terms.

The Martínez Numbers

With news breaking that Martínez is on the market, will Real Salt Lake shift its attention and make signing Martinez a priority ahead of next season?

The Venezuelan national team star is still only 29 years old, 4 years the senior of his country counterpart Córdova. Martínez boasts a proven track record, unlike Córdova. Martínez is reliable, consistent, and the sort of player that could transition RSL from a club scrapping into the playoffs to immediately becoming a serious MLS Cup threat.

Martínez has appeared in a total of 144 games since joining Atlanta United from Italian Seria A side Torino in 2017. Remarkably, he has scored 121 goals. In 2018 he scored 35 goals in 39 appearances and in 2019 he scored 28 goals from 32 appearances.

To put that in perspective, Álvaro Saborío holds the Real Salt Lake season record for most goals scored when he bagged 17 from 31 regular season appearances in the 2012 campaign. 

In 2020, Martínez suffered a torn ACL and was only able to play in one game. Since then, he scored 12 goals from 24 appearances in 2021 and 9 goals from 26 appearances in 2022.

Martínez may never return to the form that warranted him to be named the 2018 MLS Most Valuable Player. But a new environment and a fresh start at Real Salt Lake could culminate in Martínez returning to the sparkling form from a few years ago.

Ultimately, the 2022 season confirmed that Córdova is a talented player. But at 25 years old he is still yet to suggest that he can be the focal point of the attack. He has not proven himself to be the trusted source for goals. Martínez has.

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Opinion: Will Real Salt Lake Pursue Josef Martínez?