A debate has been brewing on scsoccer.com as to whom is the best boys player in the state.
Although there are non-believers still out there, an overwhelming majority agree it’s Northwestern junior Enzo Martinez, which comes as no surprise.
Martinez led the Trojans to the Class AAAA state championship, a 2-0 win over Spring Valley. He scored the Trojans’ first goal and assisted on the second. For the season, Martinez scored 50 goals and had 22 assists while becoming the state’s career goals leader with 143.
For any doubters out there, he still has another season to play. Martinez could push his total so far from the pack that it will rival the almost certainly unbreakable record of 2,632 consecutive games played by former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.
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Martinez was selected The Herald’s All-Area Boys Soccer player of the Year for the second straight time. He was recently named the South Carolina Gatorade Boys Soccer Player of the Year for the second consecutive time and was Region 3-AAAA’s player of the year.
“Numbers to me (are) a team thing,’’ Martinez said. “I’m not the one who scored the goals. I’m the person who touched the ball last. I wish goals could go to everyone who touches to ball. When you play soccer, you don’t go around wearing a sign saying ‘I did this or I did that.’’’
Martinez and his family moved to the United States from Uruguay seven years ago. When he arrived, Martinez didn’t know a word of English. He’s shy about the first word he learned, a four-letter one that is a no-no.
He said the friend who taught it to him said it was considered a bad word and was teaching it to him so he wouldn’t repeat it and get into trouble.
Several people have taken Martinez and his family under their wings. The list includes David Benson, a local attorney, and his family, and Northwestern coach Dom Wren.
Northwestern has gone to the state championship game in all three of Wren’s seasons as coach. The Trojans lost to Spring Valley last year, 3-2, but beat the Vikings 1-0 in 2006.
Wren is 74-8 at Northwestern, a winning percentage of 90.2. The Trojans were 23-2 this season. Wren is The Herald’s All-Area Boys Soccer Coach of the Year for the third straight year.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better matchup the last three years,’’ Wren said. “The class, the passion, the sportsmanship when we play Spring Valley. I feel privileged to have coached in those finals. We had three great games with a good, positive, healthy atmosphere between two teams that have a lot of respect for each other.’’
Wren said the Trojans’ success is based on fundamentals and hard work. He is a master technician when it comes to preparing his players for big matchups. He said everything is in place for Northwestern to thrive on the field, that he wants his players to be confident, but not overconfident, because any team can be beaten.
Northwestern is easily one of the smallest Class AAAA teams in the state size-wise, especially among its top players.
“But we have big hearts and play the system,’’ Wren said. “Look at Enzo, (Ricardo) Garbanzo, Alex Martinez and Robbie Benson. They are the heart of our team.
“Enzo is the biggest of the four at 5-foot-6, 140 pounds, so you can see we are not the biggest. We make up for that because our players are very smart and play with heart. Most of the time we overcome the physical difference because of that.
“Dynasties don’t happen overnight, and we don’t strive for a dynasty. But it comes with winning. We welcome success, don’t look at it as pressure or stress. We look at it as our chance to be our best. That’s why we lace our cleats, pull on the Northwestern jersey and go onto the field.’’
Wren has talked about the system for three seasons and said he bases it on hard work and goes from there.
In explaining the system, he said it starts with very good defensive players. The Trojans try to win the ball and get it into an offensive position as soon as possible. When the Trojans get there, they become very direct in attacking the goal.
“When you play soccer, to win, you have to get goals,’’ Wren said. “So when we get the ball in the opposition’s half of the field, we run combinations to get scoring opportunities.’’
More often than not, the other Trojans find Enzo Martinez moving to get into position near the opponent’s net.
“In my country, you decide when you are 15 if you go to school or educate yourself,’’ Martinez said. “After coach Wren got hold of me and Alex, he told us we would not play soccer if we don’t do good in school.
“The great thing about America is you can go to school, get an education and play soccer. I have another year of high school, but I want to get a college education and continue playing soccer. The last three years are the best I’ve had.’’
He has also been successful in the classroom, where he maintains a 3.92 grade-point average. He participates in multiple community-service initiatives, volunteering as a youth referee, coach and mentor at area soccer clinics on behalf of several youth programs in Rock Hill.
Martinez had a huge grin on his face while saying he had narrowed his college choices down to three — “Clemson is No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3.’’
“A college education is very important to me,’’ he said. “I want to get a degree and do the same thing coach Wren is doing for us. I look up to coach Wren. To me, he lives a perfect life. He’s happy and has no regrets. I’d like to someday pay back to young people for what he’s done for us.
“Every player’s dream is to play international soccer in another country. Coach Wren has told me to take one step at a time. I can’t control if I play in another country. All I can control is Discoveries and Northwestern soccer. I dream to play international soccer one day, but you never know.’’