COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Rocky Mountain Cup is one of the most heated rivalries in MLS, and for Colorado Rapids midfielder Enzo Martinez, it’s personal.
“It’s going to be fun,” Martinez told Pro Soccer USA ahead of this weekend’s match with Real Salt Lake. “For me to go there and to play my first game on the right, it means a lot to me. It means a lot to wear the Colorado Rapids colors, and I appreciate the opportunity this club has given me. I’m going to go out there and give everything I got, and hopefully we come out of there with three points.”
Martinez, 27, was selected by RSL in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft as the 17th overall pick and a highly-touted prospect from North Carolina’s 2011 NCAA Championship team. But in two seasons with Salt Lake, the Uruguayan failed to see game action and in 2013 was sent back to his home state on loan with the United Soccer League’s Carolina Railhawks. Two years later, he signed with another North Carolina club — the Rapids’ USL affiliate Charlotte Independence.
While a step down from MLS, the Independence served as a key turning point for Martinez.
“I’ve been able to grow with the Charlotte Independence and here with Colorado so far,” he explained. “I think I’m a more mature player and hopefully I’ll show [Real Salt Lake] that.”
Charlotte is also where he first met current teammates Dominique Badji and Marlon Hairston. Sent to the Independence on loan earlier in their careers for development, Badji and Hairston are now key contributors and starters for Colorado. Martinez hopes to solidify his role in a similar fashion. He cites his pre-existing relationship with his teammates as a strong foundation for the team’s chemistry.
“Since the beginning, knowing those guys has made me feel at home,” said Martinez. “They’ve welcomed me here to the club. That makes a massive difference on the field. Knowing each other and playing with each other for a long time, that’s going to help a lot.”
In four starts with Colorado, Martinez has been a key distributor in the midfield, completing 75 percent of his passes. It’s a strong indicator of his on-field vision, but again he’s quick to deflect credit, this time to Rapids head coach Anthony Hudson.
“Coach Anthony is very tactical and I’ve learned much about the game in these past two to three months; things that I didn’t even look at and many players don’t look at,” Martinez explained. “It’s about understanding how all the little things can add up and make a massive difference.”
Hudson’s preparation has led to a recent resurgence in Colorado. The Rapids are now riding a four-game unbeaten streak. But his players know they’ll have to remain focused and committed for that success to continue on the road in Sandy, Utah.
Said Martinez, “As a rivalry, we know what this means to the fans. We’re all up for this game. It’s going to be exciting, but at the same time, we have to focus on our game, we have to focus on the things that will make us successful on the field.”
They say good things come to those who wait. Six years in the making, Enzo Martinez is ready to feature in a competitive MLS match at Rio Tinto for the first time in his career.
“That’s a hard place to play at,” Martinez said. “The fans will be behind them. It’s a derby match. For me, personally, I want to go in there and get three points.”