Sports

Martinez brothers relish home game in Rock Hill

Charlotte’s Enzo Martinez works his way down the pitch against the Richmond Kickers.
Charlotte’s Enzo Martinez works his way down the pitch against the Richmond Kickers. Special to the Herald

Enzo Martinez showed up to Friday night’s Charlotte Independence USL soccer game at Winthrop wearing some dapper blue suede shoes.

“They’re Alex’s,” said Enzo. “I stole them.”

Being able to “borrow” each other’s footwear is one benefit of the Martinez brothers playing together with the Independence.

A benefit of playing in Charlotte is getting to play near their hometown of Rock Hill. Friday, they did one better and played at Winthrop’s Eagle Field.

The Independence is still negotiating with Mecklenburg County on using Memorial Stadium in downtown Charlotte, so the team is moving around the city until a deal is finalized. That meant Rock Hill soccer fans got to watch the city’s two best soccer products play against Richmond in person.

“It was great,” said Enzo. “A lot of fun to play here in front of the home crowd, and the result was even better.”

The Martinez’s mother, Mariela Beltran, was glowing after the game, a 3-0 win for the Independence. Her sons began their professional careers in Major League Soccer with far-flung outfits Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake. Watching them play at Winthrop on Friday was surreal.

Asked how it felt to see them so close to home, Beltran answered in Spanish, her daughter Lucia translating.

“She said she always had that hope that they come back to the town to play where they grew up,” said Lucia. “She’s so happy that they play for Charlotte.”

“Because it’s close,” added Mariela in halting English.

Alex started the match and played about 60 minutes, while Enzo entered the game as a sub in the second half. Mariela and Lucia sat in the stands with family members and close friends, a Uruguayan flag draped on the fence behind them.

“We are so proud of them and we can’t forget where we come from,” said Lucia. “We grew up here, we came here when we were so young, but we always bring our flag. That’s where we’re born.”

Enzo estimated before the game that he and his brother, who starred for Northwestern and Discoveries Soccer Club, used 40 extra tickets for the game, taking teammates’ allotment of complimentary tickets to give to friends and supporters.

Alex gave a good show, especially in the first half when he flashed some quick feet, ghosting past his man, or cutting the ball back as over-committed defenders went sliding past. He drew an elbow from Richmond right back Alex Lee that earned the Kickers player a straight red card in the 41st minute and left Martinez on the grass clutching the back of his head for an extended period of time.

“He’s so strong,” said Mariela, brushing off the injury with a smile.

The brothers were never on the field at the same time. When Enzo made his way to midfield to enter the contest, Alex’s number was called. They shared a quick embrace as a sweat-drenched Alex made his way to the bench and Enzo trotted on to the Winthrop pitch.

After catching his studs in the turf the day before in practice, slightly twisting his ankle, Enzo wasn’t sure he’d be able to play Friday night. He was grateful for the 30-minute cameo.

“I didn’t know what the coach was thinking. I told him I was fine,” said Enzo. “But I didn’t know home many minutes I was gonna get, so happy with the minutes I got and happy to play in front of friends and family.”

They didn’t get on the field at the same time, but they left the field together. A gaggle of little kids were waiting for the brothers after they crossed the by-then emptied pitch, all wide-eyed and whispering “Enzo” and “Alex” to their parents as they approached. Then the little ones instinctively turned and the Martinez brothers whipped out Sharpies and began signing the backs of t-shirts.

Enzo may have arrived in the blue suede shoes, but both Martinez brothers left Winthrop Friday night having further cemented their status as Rock Hill soccer Elvis Presleys.

“If we could do it here every time, obviously for both of us it’d be great,” said Alex, grinning.

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