Alex Martinez and his fiancee, Aubrey, couldn’t refresh the pages on her laptop and his iPad fast enough Tuesday afternoon. The couple were following the Major League Soccer Super Draft online, and, as anyone who has ever followed a sporting event online can attest, the Internet just wasn’t moving fast enough.
Finally, Martinez took a call from his agent, who congratulated him. “For what?” Martinez asked, before being told he’d been selected by Sporting Kansas City, the league’s defending champs, with the final pick of the draft’s third round. Another refresh, and there it was on the screen.
“I am very excited about the opportunity to play with the best team in Major League Soccer,” Martinez told the club’s web site. “My goal growing up when I came to America was to play professionally in MLS. It is a dream come true to get the chance to play in Kansas City.”
Martinez, who was born in Uruguay and grew up in Rock Hill, will fly to Kansas City for his physical and contract negotiations later this week, before jetting off to Tucson, Ariz., with the squad for preseason training. Sporting KC is a perfect landing spot for the former Northwestern Trojan and N.C. State standout. Besides the club just winning MLS Cup, Martinez trained with them for a week last August, lending a sense of familiarity to an otherwise nervy situation. He said Sporting KC was his preferred destination.
“I’m not going somewhere where I don’t who anyone is, which is good for me,” he noted.
Martinez was one of three college seniors chosen by Sporting on Tuesday. He projects as a left midfielder, and he’ll get to learn from outstanding wings in Kansas City. Sporting KC’s wide midfielders include Sal Zizzo, who starred at UCLA and played in Europe for a number of seasons, and USA full international Graham Zusi, who will likely play for the U.S. in the World Cup this summer.
Martinez suspects the high level of competition he faced on a weekly basis the last two years will smooth his transition. After a successful first two seasons of college soccer at High Point University, Martinez excelled in the ACC at N.C. State. He scored 11 goals and added 10 assists as a junior, before scoring twice and assisting on eight goals as a the focal point in a less talented squad his senior year.
“It’s going to be a different level for me, but I’m excited for the opportunity,” said Martinez. “Playing in the ACC, the best conference in the country, prepared me to a certain degree, but it’s a different level now. I’m ready to learn and go from there.”
Martinez was projected by some to be selected last Thursday, when the league held its first two rounds of the Super Draft. Martinez was disappointed to not be chosen on the first day, but that ultimately matters little.
“In MLS, maybe, it’s a big maybe, the first round picks get a contract, but everyone else is fighting for a contract,” he said. “So at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you go first or fourth, you have to go out there and prove yourself that you’re worth it and that you deserve it.”
Martinez becomes the second member of his family to be drafted by MLS. His older brother, Enzo, was a first round pick of Real Salt Lake two years ago.
“I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for my brother,” Martinez said. “He’s been my hero, he’s been my everything through all of this.
“It’s exciting that I got the opportunity two years after him, and he’s learned a lot and he’s given it to me and told me what the difference is between the game, and to just be confident with myself.”
Now, Martinez can focus on winning a spot on Sporting KC’s MLS squad, and perhaps finding faster online service.
“Yesterday, I was watching Barcelona play online and when it would freeze, I would have to refresh it,” he said, laughing.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T