It stands no taller than a thumb.
But in Josue Martinez’ life, few things are bigger.
When Martinez was 14, his mother gave him a small, black Santa Maria figurine. It has been an integral piece in his life since. There are things that remind us all of where we came from, whether it be as elaborate as heirloom jewelry to as simple as an old high school t-shirt. And since making a move to the U.S. to play in Philadelphia, for Martinez, this little black Santa Maria is his little piece of nostalgia.
“My mother gave it to me when I was 14, I am 22 and I still have it,” Martinez told philadelphiaunion.com. “It’s very important to me and it reminds me of my family, of my home.”
So it was no surprise that the figurine stood tall in Martinez’ locker room stall on Sunday. Martinez rewarded a rare start when he notched the game winner in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Houston. The win, which snapped an eight game winless streak and even with the events that have transpired this season, somehow kept the Union afloat in the playoffs. After the match, he gave it a kiss, put it among his personals and left the locker room, with the pride that his play placed him one step closer to finding his name etched as a go-to offensive presence -- on a club desperate for one.
“I am always just trying to do the best that I can and show the coaches that I want to play on the field,” Martinez said. “This is my life and my job and I try to show that I am trying to do my best when I get the chance to play. I am waiting on a call from my national team, so I am just going to keep working hard and playing as best I can.”
Martinez’ home is in the town of San Jose, Costa Rica, which according to Google Maps is 3,836 miles away from the Chester waterfront. Groomed in the academy system of Costa Rican powerhouse club CD Saprissa, Martinez joined the Union in December, movng to an unfamiliar town, surrounded by folks who spoke an unfamiliar language.
“It’s a big change coming from a different country,” Martinez said via translator after Sunday’s 3-1 victory. “There is a lot of things to get used to, but I like it here and I am happy with all the things I have learned.”
Martinez has made 17 appearances since joining the Union, hardly making him a mainstay in the lineup. Manager John Hackworth has repeatedly told reporters that it’s not Martinez’ skill -- the same skill that has already earned him 16 appearances for Costa Rican senior national team -- that’s holding him back, it’s getting acclimated to the speed of the MLS game.
“Many of these guys grew up in a culture where the game wasn’t as fast and wasn’t as immediate in terms of reactions as it is here in this league,” Hackworth said during a recent press conference. “This is a hard league to play in…for these young guys like Roger and Josue, it’s a matter of still working on continually being consistent and that reactions need to be immediate.”
Though the appearances have been rare this season, the first thing Martinez does, and will continue to do ritually, is call home to tell his family and his girlfriend. For those few minutes over a phone line to hear their collective voices provides solace as Martinez continues to charter a course in MLS.
“Before and after every game, I call my girlfriend and my family,” Martinez said via translator following Sunday’s win. “To get a chance to talk to them I just know everything is going to be alright.”
Contact Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kerith on Twitter @sprtswtr.