Ok, painting Michael Gspurning as underrated was a layup. Doing the same for Andreas Ivanschitz was a short-range turnaround jumper off glass (executed with Tim Duncan precision by Jeremiah Oshan). But now it’s time for a heat check. I’m pulling up from three-point range to pay respect to one my personal favorites, Mario Martinez.
The Sounders acquired Martinez on loan in 2012 from Honduran powerhouse Real España. At the time, the young midfielder had been making waves on the international circuit, most notably scoring a crafty full volley against Brazil at the 2012 Olympics. The move to bring the rising talent to Seattle made a lot of sense in the pre-TAM era, when clubs were still largely priced out of bidding wars for top South American talent and often turned to Concacaf instead.
On the field, Martinez provided outside mid depth. Though he was unavailable for much of 2012 due to international call-ups, he made a big impact in that year’s playoffs. (More on that later.) His sophomore campaign proved rockier for the creative playmaker, and though there were talks of keeping him past his loan, the team let him go that summer. Rumors circled during the following winter that the Sounders had plans to bring him back for 2014, but nothing came of it. Given the primary source of those rumors was Martinez himself, it’s hard to know how reliable they really were.
Martinez was a playmaker through and through. Even as a reserve on Honduras’ 2014 World Cup squad, he snagged the No. 10 jersey. Capable of providing magical moments with his technical ability (still more on that later), he had more than enough quality to turn a match on its head. But beyond scintillating shots and occasional displays of extravagant footwork, Martinez was a quick-passing, combination-based player. His ability to tuck inside allowed the Sounders to overload opposing midfields in build up, and he was often more dangerous as a participant in possession multiple passes before the shot than in the final product. Whether or not he showed up as much on defense is harder to remember.
Trophies and highlights
Like Gspurning, Martinez was on the Sounders for the only two-year stretch where they failed to win a trophy or make an MLS Cup final. Also like Gspurning, his greatest moment as a Sounder came against RSL in the 2012 playoffs. You probably know which moment I’m talking about, but just for memories sake, it was when he hit a half-volley first time by slicing the ball with his back foot so that it bent outside-in which makes almost no sense unless you’re a young French international scoring the best goal at the 2018 World Cup. Anyway, here’s a video because words don’t do it justice. (Jump to 4:50 for the good stuff.)
Why he’s underrated
To be clear, I think Martinez’s playoff golazo is properly extolled in Sounders lore. It’s also not quite a J.R. Smith level heat check to name him as underrated when any serious Sounders fan still fondly remembers the goal and its significance. (You’ll know I’m at J.R. levels when I give you my Shalrie Joseph thoughts, but let’s hope that never happens because the article will be a five-foot air ball.)
The reason I think Martinez is underrated is that he came to the Sounders at the wrong time, and subsequently never got an opportunity to fully shine. His tuck-inside, quick-combo passing game was better suited to the fullbacks-always-overlapping, Schmetzer-era Sounders than the Sigi Schmid Sounders. Schmid’s Sounders, while not opposed to possession or sending fullbacks at the right time, tended to be more direct and less build-out reliant, which could also be said of the entire MLS at the time. As a player who wasn’t providing consistent end product or outstanding defensive work rate, Martinez’s chances for consistent minutes were limited.
All that in mind, it would be a stretch to say Martinez could’ve provided the quality of a Victor Rodriguez, or even the selfless off-ball movement (not to mention domestic status) of a Harry Shipp. As such, Martinez’s chance at an MLS rebirth was likely thwarted by the introduction of TAM. Regardless, he’s had a successful career that includes World Cup minutes, trophies in Honduras, and even a stint in Egypt’s top league.
More importantly, Martinez delivered the Sounders a playoff win at a time when their postseason futility had their status as MLS standard-bearers seriously teetering. For that, I give a shout out to the man who — outside Michael Bennett — gave Seattle the best suggestive-hip celebration we’ve ever seen. Cheers to you, Mario Martinez.