With Major League Soccer still yet to pervade the mainstream football psyche in Europe, the headlines aimed at a European audience so far in 2018 have largely concerned veteran duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney as they navigate their first season in North America.


Ibrahimovic's stunning debut goal for LA Galaxy earlier this year was seen by millions around the world - he has now scored 15 in total, while Rooney's huge impact on D.C. United's fortunes since making the move has also drawn broader attention outside the usual MLS circles.

DC United v Colorado Rapids - MLS

Yet neither of these two, who will have a combined age of 70 by the end of October, is the standout MLS performer in 2018, nor is it Sebastian Giovinco, Bastian Schweinsteiger or Clint Dempsey.


Instead, this season's sure fire winner of the coveted MVP award is Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez, a name that few, if any, who are unfamiliar with MLS will have heard before.


Coming off the back of a very strong 2017 MLS season that started as loan from Torino, during which he scored five times in three games, and finished with 19 league goals as Atlanta reached the playoffs in their very first season, the 24-year-old is having an absolutely storming 2018.

Seattle Sounders v Atlanta United

There are still nine games of the regular season left to play and after 27 goals in 25 appearances Martinez has already equalled the MLS all-time record for goals in a single campaign. It is a high he now shares with Roy Lassiter (1996), Chris Wondolowski (2012) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (2014) but is certain to have shattered by the time this campaign is over.


No other MLS player has scored more than 15 goals so far this season, while Martinez has scored 19 in his last 13 games alone and has only failed to find the net in one outing since May. Fittingly, it was Martinez who scored when the MLS All-Stars recently drew 1-1 with Juventus.


The 24-year-old Venezuelan, who spent five years in Europe after leaving first club Caracas in 2012, is fast becoming a local superstar in Atlanta and was even invited to throw out the opening pitch at an Atlanta Braves game back in April.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals

What he represents is a changing tactic for some MLS clubs. While the likes of Ibrahimovic and Rooney are a huge marketing draw, other sides are using their 'Designated Player' (DP) allowance - the tag which permits teams to pay select individuals above the salary cap - to target younger players from Central and South America with a longer term project in mind.


Atlanta have nobody that would be considered a 'household' name, instead handing DP money to Martinez, 19-year-old Argentine Ezequiel Barco and 24-year-old Paraguayan Miguel Almiron. Those three are the team's top scorers this season, joined by another Argentine, Hector Villalba.


At the back, Argentine Leandro Gonzalez marshals the second meanest defensive unit in MLS.

Similarly, Los Angeles FC have signed 20-year-old Uruguayan Diego Rossi to a DP contract, resisting the temptation to throw their resources at a bigger name like Rooney, as had originally been the plan after owner Tom Penn admitted interest in the former England captain in 2016.


LAFC are above city rivals LA Galaxy in the Western Conference, while Atlanta lead the Eastern Conference marginally ahead of New York Red Bulls, another club buying into the new policy after the DP signing of Paraguayan starlet Alejandro Gamarra ahead of the current season.

Atlanta United FC v Montreal Impact

As things stand, Martinez and his Atlanta teammates are unsurprising favourites to go all the way this year and win the MLS Cup for the first time. But for most outside North America this prolific goalscorer in the form of his life still remains overshadowed by superstars names.