The Legend of Josef Martinez and what it takes to get to 27 (and more) goals / by Sean Steffen

By Sean Steffen (@seansteffen)

Josef Martinez is a man on fire, and, as of writing this, he currently sits on 28 goals in 2018, having just broken the all time scoring record of 27 first set by Roy Lassiter in MLS’ inaugural season and matched by Chris Wondolowski in 2012 and Bradley Wright Phillips in 2014.

But I want to take this opportunity to look at how goal scorers score goals, and compare Wondolowski, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Martinez (we don’t have data on Lassiter, sadly) on their march to 27. Yes, Martinez has broken the record, but this article is going to deal with his stats on the way to 27. For a more complete breakdown of his data and where he lands, I’m sure someone at ASA (let’s say, Harrison) will write you that article at the end of the year.

My final note before jumping into this is to recognize the players who do not get mentioned in these conversations because, for whatever reason, we insist on including penalty kicks into golden boot consideration, spurning those who did not take them. I'm excluding penalty kicks from the rest of this analysis because while some PKs are a byproduct of the goal scorer getting denied a high leverage shooting chance, most do not, and even when the shooter is involved, it's rarely from a xG position as gainful as the xG of a penalty. Furthermore, getting to take the PK requires a bit of fortune, too. Just because a player takes the PK doesn't mean they had anything to do with the chance that led to it. On a similar note, penalty xG has been stripped from all data in this article unless otherwise noted in order to compare these players on a more equal playing ground.

We often forget seasons like BWP’s in 2016 where he scored 24 non-penalty goals (more than any player to reach 27) or Kei Kamara's in 2015 when he scored 22 non-penalty goals (matching Wondo’s 2012 mark), only to lose the Golden Boot on a tie-breaker to Giovinco and his three penalties. But that is a soapbox for another time.

While these seasons are not included in this article, they are worth a mention.

So, without further ado, let’s jump into the data!


When we look at the raw data, we can find some interesting similarities and differences

Shooter Season NPG xG G-xG Penalites Shots xG per shot Unassisted
Chris Wondolowski 2012 22.0 16.5 5.5 5 120 0.14 19.0%
Bradley Wright-Phillips 2014 21.0 18.3 2.7 6 103 0.18 11.7%
Josef Martinez 2018 21.0 17.3 3.7 6 65 0.27 18.5%

As we can see, all three players got considerable help from penalties to reach the 27 mark. Both BWP and Wondo fell short of the non penalty goal record mentioned earlier in this article, as has Martinez so far, although he has a considerable number of games to break this record as well.

From a shot and xG per shot perspective, we see how these players differ. Wondo stands out in the number of shots he took which corresponds to the lower xG per shot and higher unassisted shot rate than BWP. While many people think of Wondo as a pure box forward, this is far from the case and the data show it.  BWP and Martinez’s numbers, on the other hand, are very much in the “box forward” mold, although Martinez’s unassisted shot rate is impressive, which makes sense given his individual ability on the ball.

All of this can be seen when we look at the non-penalty goal maps of these players. Martinez has an especially high number of goals from within the six.

Excludes penalty kicks.

These shot maps also reveal something quite unique about Wondolowski’s road to 27 as compared to the others. See all that red? Those are his whopping eight goal from corner kicks.

Shooter Regular Corner Fastbreak Set Piece
Chris Wondolowski 12 8 1 1
Bradley Wright-Phillips 21 0 0 0
Josef Martinez 17 2 2 0

Some may be quick to cast this off as luck, however, given Wondolowski’s legendary ability to find separation with the defender, I wouldn’t be so sure. You can watch all of his goals from that season here if you wish to judge for yourself. Also notable is that BWP scored zero non-penalty goals from set pieces in 2014.

Another interesting way to compare these players is what part of the body they were scoring with

shooter head left right other
Chris Wondolowski 8 5 8 1
Bradley Wright-Phillips 2 4 15 0
Josef Martinez 9 7 5 0

What’s interesting here is that, despite Wondo scoring so many goals on corner kicks, Josef Martinez had more headed goals in his road to 27. Certainly a testament to his versatility as a player.

The final thing I would like to look at is the strength of the team behind each of these players. Below is a chart of the percentage of the team’s total xG each player had that year, as well as the xG each team was putting up.

Player Team xG/game Percentage of team's xG
Chris Wondolowski 1.52 34.1%
Bradley Wright-Phillips 1.38 40.2%
Josef Martinez 1.97 37.6%

In all cases, these teams were heavily dependent on these players for their xG, which is a bit surprising in the case of Martinez, given the quality of attacking players behind him. Wondo comes in as the lowest share, which makes sense give that he is the only player of the three who played in a two-forward system. Between he, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, SJ forwards put up 50 goals that year. Of the three, it’s probably fair to say that BWP had the weakest offense behind him, however, what conclusions we can draw from this are unclear as he had the lowest unassisted shot rate of the three, meaning his team was more directly involved in his shots.

So, what can we glean from all of this? Well, besides my soapbox that penalty kicks play and undo part in how we remember players (shakes fist at the sky), I think we see that there isn’t one singular path to being a prolific goal scorer in MLS. Wondo shot a lot and from all over. BWP and Martinez shot less and from much closer. Wondo was a set piece master, while Martinez and BWP were strong from the run of play. BWP scored most of his goals with his feet, while Wondo and Martinez had a fair amount more with their heads. Each of these players are different in their own right and played wonderfully to their strengths to produce magical seasons.

I’d like to end this article with a tip of my hat to Martinez’s magical run this season. I can not wait to see how many goals he ends up with, and, from a stat junky stand point, I’m also rooting for him to break the less talked about but more impressive non-penalty goal record.