Former Northwestern star Martinez exploring career options in native Uruguay

bmccormick@heraldonline.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Former Northwestern soccer star Enzo Martinez arrived in Uruguay on Sunday, marking the first time he’s visited his native country in over 13 years.

But Martinez has business besides visiting relatives he hasn’t seen since 2000 and getting a tan beneath the summer sun. His agent has lined up tryouts with several Uruguayan clubs, including first-division outfit Defensor Sporting.

The hope is to get a stalled career moving again. Drafted two years ago by Major League Soccer club Real Salt Lake, Martinez has yet to play in a competitive game for the team, a vexing situation that he hasn’t been able to unravel.

“To me it’s a mystery,” he said. “Every time I spoke to the coach, he was really happy with how good I was playing, how hard I was working and that he appreciated that, and that he wasn’t willing to let me go to another team because he knew I was good enough.”

Real Salt Lake actually waived Martinez on Thursday, which should make him a free agent, but because of league rules, does not. Real Salt Lake still owns Martinez’s rights in MLS, meaning he can play in any other league, including USL Pro or lower, or in another country. But he can’t play in MLS for another team until Salt Lake relinquishes his rights, a move they don’t have to make until next year. As Martinez put it, “I’m a free agent anywhere in the world, except MLS.”

Martinez, who won an NCAA title with North Carolina in 2011, asked Salt Lake to sell him to another club so he could get game time, but the team brass declined.

“My agent has tried to find me other teams in MLS, but Real Salt Lake keeps saying no,” Martinez said. “It’s a weird situation because I haven’t played.”

Last fall, he was afforded a loan spell to the Carolina Railhawks, based in Cary, N.C., an opportunity he seized upon, scoring three goals and assisting on two more in just six games for the USL Pro division side. He also lived with his brother, Alex, a senior at N.C. State. Martinez made enough of an impression that the Railhawks extended him an offer for the upcoming season.

“I think it was exactly what I needed,” he said. “I just wanted to be playing. It was better than training (at Salt Lake) every day and not getting any game time. I felt I did really good. The coaches and the staff at Carolina were really happy and they told me before I left that if anything happens with Salt Lake, ‘We’d love to have you here.’ 

He’d like to make an impact with Salt Lake, though. Martinez said he had a very good relationship with the club’s recently departed coach, Jason Kreis. That made the team’s refusal to play him in competitive games all the more puzzling. Kreis was named the head coach of the newest MLS side, New York F.C., and assistant coach Jeff Cassar was promoted to the head job. Might things change in Salt Lake for Martinez?

“I don’t know,” said Martinez, “that’s kind of where I am right now. I don’t know and that’s the problem.”

And that’s why Martinez is headed to Uruguay for close to a month. The trip will return him to the neighborhood he grew up in, Montevideo’s Villa Española. Martinez moved to the United States with his immediate family when he was 10 years old, and hasn’t seen a host of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents since 2000. He said he’ll take Monday off to visit with relatives and get his mind right before commencing training on Tuesday.

“It’s gonna be awesome,” Martinez said with a grin. “Especially after 13 years.”

Martinez longs for a chance to train with any of Uruguay’s three biggest teams, Penarol, Danubio or Nacional, the club his family supports and for whom his uncle played. But he’s not being picky. His wife, Holly, and 17-month-old daughter, Ariana, will not be making the trip down to Uruguay, at least initially. But they’ll constantly be on Martinez’s mind as he tries to win a deal in his native country. Holly and Ariana are the biggest reminder that Martinez isn’t playing just for fun any longer.

“Right now it’s about finding a team, getting a job and supporting my family,” he said.

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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