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Atlanta’s Martinez wins MVP award in Major League Soccer

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ATLANTA (AP) Josef Martinez claimed the MVP award from Major League Soccer on Wednesday after shattering the record for goals in a season and leading Atlanta United to the championship game.

The 25-year-old Venezuelan striker received his Landon Donovan Trophy during a ceremony at the headquarters of United owner Arthur Blank.

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Martinez already earned the Golden Boot for scoring 31 goals in 34 games this season, breaking the mark of 27 shared by Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips.

“I’m very happy because this is an award we all wanted,” Martinez said through a translator. “It is due to a lot of work by myself, my teammates, my coaching staff and my family. I just want to thank all those people.”

He credits his teammates for giving him plenty of scoring chances, including fellow MVP finalist Miguel Almiron. The other finalists were Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the Los Angeles Galaxy, Wayne Rooney of D.C. United and Carlos Vela of Los Angeles FC.

“If it wasn’t for all those guys, all the passes they assisted me on this season, the spectacular year that all of them had, we wouldn’t be talking about this award or talking about Atlanta United playing in the final,” Martinez said.

He has added three goals in the playoffs. Atlanta won the Eastern Conference title and will host the MLS Cup final on Saturday night against the Portland Timbers.

The MVP is eager to add one more trophy to his collection.

“We want to be champions,” Martinez said. “We’ve been working two seasons for this opportunity. We don’t want to let it slip away.”

After coming to Atlanta United from Torino in Italy’s Serie A, Martinez made an immediate impact with the MLS expansion team in 2017. He scored 19 goals in 20 league games and might’ve broken the scoring record if not for a quadriceps injury that kept him out for two months. He was hurt while playing for the Venezuelan national team.

Atlanta coach Tata Martino came into this season with high expectations for the diminutive striker.

“When I rejoined the team in February, there was a meeting between myself and Tata,” Martinez recalled. “Tata told me all I have to do is find space and I could score 30 goals in a season. At the time, I didn’t believe him. Sometimes people say things, but you don’t expect it to come true. Thanks to everyone, I was able to do it.”

Martino will be coaching his final game with Atlanta in the MLS Cup. He is expected to take over as Mexico’s national coach.

“I just wish him the best wherever he goes,” Martinez said. “Maybe we’ll reconnect in the future.”

Martinez said he keeps his Golden Boot trophy on a table at his home, surrounded by game balls.

When asked what he plans to do with the MVP award, he couldn’t resist having some fun.

“I’m going to put it on top of my car,” he joked, “so when I leave my house, everybody can see it every day.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

For more AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Ibrahimovic prefers to stay with LA Galaxy

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It appears Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be staying in MLS after all.

According to a report from Swedish newspaper Expressen, Ibrahimovic now prefers to stay with the LA Galaxy, provided they make him a Designated Player for next season and beyond. Over the past two weeks, numerous rumors and reports out of Italy have linked Ibrahimovic with a return to AC Milan. However, the report out of Sweden states his family has settled in well in Los Angeles – who doesn’t? – and they’d prefer not to leave. In addition, Ibrahimovic is unsure if his body, at age 37, can take the rigors of a high-level European season.

[READ: Koscielny nearing Arsenal return]

The big Swede was a sensation in his first season in MLS, scoring 22 goals with 10 assists in 27 games, though the LA Galaxy missed out on the playoffs in dramatic fashion, coughing up a two-goal lead in the second half.

It’s expected with a new coach and front office that there could be plenty of roster moves coming up for the Galaxy, perhaps one that will open up a Designated Player spot for Ibrahimovic. Giovani Dos Santos has been a near disaster the last two seasons and Romain Alessandrini, while solid, has not had the kind of star-power impact that Ibrahimovic had.

2018 MLS awards: Tata wins Coach, Zlatan wins Goal

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Major League Soccer announced a number of its regular season awards on Tuesday, and a pair of the league’s international stars were at the forefront of the achievements.

Outgoing Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino won Coach of the Year, while LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic won the league’s Goal of the Year award for his incredible long-distance strike against rivals LAFC back in late March.

Martino, in his second year in charge as Atlanta United’s first and only manager in franchise history, came just a point from securing the team’s first Supporters’ Shield in just its second year of existence. The club just won its first playoff series in club history as well, beating NYFC over two legs to reach the Eastern Conference finals. The Argentine has announced he will depart the club at the end of the season, with reports pinning him to a job with the Mexican national team.

LAFC manager Bob Bradley finished second in the Coach of the Year award, having led the first-year club to a third-place finish in the Western Conference and a playoff spot before being dumped by Real Salt Lake in the knockout round.

Ibrahimovic won Goal of the Year with his audacious half-volleyed strike from almost 40 yards out that chipped LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller and leveled the score. It was Ibrahimovic’s first MLS goal after moving to the Galaxy in the offseason from Manchester United. He scored again that match, a stoppage-time winner in the brand new derby.

Other awards were handed out during the hour-long awards ceremony on Periscope, including the Save of the Year, which went to Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei for ranging across his net to stop Colorado Rapids forward Shkelzen Gashi.

Skill Play of the Year went to Portland’s Samuel Armenteros for an incredible dink past Colorado defender Danny Wilson just before scoring the game’s first goal. The Celebration of the Year went to Bradley Wright-Phillips for the aftermath of his 100th MLS goal where he proceeded to remove his jersey to reveal another underneath with the number 100.

Zlatan’s future: Ibrahimovic hopeful of return to LA in 2019

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CARSON, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s first season in Major League Soccer with the LA Galaxy was largely a success. The charismatic forward is under contract with the club for next season, but a few things have to happen if he is to return.

“I have some wishes and demands which is simple things,” Ibrahimovic said Tuesday as players had end of season meetings. “There is interest in Europe, but my priority is Galaxy. They have wishes, I have wishes, but I’m optimistic and I’m positive.”

[ MORE: USMNT’s 28-man roster released ]

Ibrahimovic is a finalist for the league’s Most Valuable Player and newcomer awards after he had 22 goals and 10 assists in 27 games.

AC Milan of Italy’s Serie A has been the latest to express interest in bringing the Swedish player back to Europe on loan, but he said he is not interested in doing something like that, admitting that if he is under contract to one club, he wants to devote his attention to that club.

“If I belong to Galaxy, I am a Galaxy player. If I belong to one club, I give my attention to one club, so I am here,” he said.

Ibrahimovic made $1.5 million this season, according to Major League Soccer’s Players Association contract figures. In order for him to earn more next year, the Galaxy would have to part ways with one of their three designated players.

Galaxy president Chris Klein said initial conversations with Ibrahimovic have been promising, and bringing him back is a top priority for the club.

“What he did this year is certainly well documented,” Klein said. “He wants to win and we want to win with him. Hopefully we can come to a resolution that is good for both sides.”

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The only thing Ibrahimovic couldn’t do his first season in MLS was get the Galaxy to the playoffs. LA (13-12-9) would have earned the final spot in the Western Conference with a win in its final regular-season game but squandered a two-goal lead to Houston and lost 3-2.

The club announced Tuesday they fired vice president of soccer operations Pete Vagenas. Klein said he hopes to have that spot filled soon. Former Galaxy and US national team coach Bruce Arena is believed to be a candidate.

They also have to decide on a head coach. Dominic Kinnear was 3-2-1 after replacing Sigi Schmid in early September and drew positive reviews from most players, including Ibrahimovic.

“I think the season was like a roller coaster. Hopefully we make it better because that is the target,” Ibrahimovic said. “I want to be able to challenge for the trophy. Like I said, I’m not here for a vacation, I’m here for the challenge and I want to feel my team has a chance to be the best in MLS. I am the best, but I want to feel like my team can compete against the others.”

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MLS MVP down to five finalists

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Major League Soccer released its five finalists for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award, headlined by a pair of former Manchester United teammates.

LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and DC United attacker Wayne Rooney are up for the award, along with LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Atlanta United teammates Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez.

Ibrahimovic might be considered the favorite had LA not failed to make the playoffs, while Atlanta may be hampered by having two players up for the honor. Vela has been outstanding on expansion LAFC despite inconsistency in his supporting cast.

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Rooney would win MVP despite playing in less than 54 percent of the season’s minutes.

Ibrahimovic, Vela, and Almiron are ranked 1-2-3 in performance scored by advanced stats site WhoScored. Rooney is 10th, and Martinez 11th.

Coincidentally, that’s close to how the voting should finish (although Rooney has been a revelation, Martinez broke the goal record so let’s at least flip those two).

This is one of those times that the MLS Most Valuable Player being named after Landon Donovan may not be ideal.

Especially if Zlatan wins the award. Imagine the speech: “Today, this is award is now the Zlatan Ibrahimovic Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player Award, sponsored by Zlatan.