Few players made an imprint on the 2020 MLS season quite like the one Jose Andres “El Brujo” Martinez made. Initially seen as a longer-term project, Martinez took little time to leave an impression on his newest club’s faithful followers.
The Union’s memorable March contest that resulted in a 3-3 draw against 2019 Supporters Shield winners LAFC boasted far more highlights than your average fixture, but few will forget the indelible image of the Union debutant with his face split open, shirt covered in blood, still tearing after every loose ball like his life depended on it. Philadelphia fans and El Brujo? A match made in soccer heaven.
Veteran Haris Medunjanin was a stalwart in the Philadelphia midfield for three seasons and authored many a memorable moment in a Union shirt. However, with the club shifting away from a possession-oriented 4-2-3-1 formation and towards a narrow 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield designed to press opponents and create opportunities in transition, the club decided to look for a more mobile replacement for the gifted Bosnian. Enter El Brujo.
Brought in from Zulia FC in his native Venezuela, Brujo was a relatively unheralded transfer concluded two days before Christmas in late 2019. After using preseason to get to know his new teammates as well as the Union’s tactical system, Martinez has gone on to take the league by storm in 2020, culminating in a dominant midfield display in the Union’s Supporters Shield-clinching victory over New England. A tenacious tackler, harrier, and ground-coverer with no short supply of skill on the ball, he embodies the smash-mouth style of play adopted by Jim Curtin’s team in 2019 and further refined in 2020.
In many ways Martinez has been emblematic not only of the Union’s tactical shift in recent seasons, but also of the dexterity with which Sporting Director Ernst Tanner and Technical Director Chris Albright have navigated the international transfer market. El Brujo can be counted among Kai Wagner, Kacper Przybylko and multiple other signings that can comfortably be called “steals” since the start of Tanner’s Philadelphia tenure. The Union’s front office under Tanner has worked tirelessly to find diamonds in the rough and spot value where other teams have not. In order to achieve this, Tanner’s staff has looked at players in a different way from most teams. Utilizing sports science and statistical metrics, the Union have managed to uncover a wealth of undervalued talent.
Beyond the everyday box score stats such as goals and assists, the Union’s front office has analyzed performance and biometric data to find players that can fit into their rigorous system. After all, pressing the way the Union do takes quite a toll on a player’s body.
So when watching Martinez play the game, full of tireless running and rugged challenges, it’s not hard to see why Tanner and Albright were drawn to him. Brujo gave his all for the Philly faithful, even fighting through an injury to help clinch the 2020 Supporters’ Shield before needing an offseason surgery just to be in line for full speed action next season. Brujo will serve as a standard-bearer for this Union brand of high-octane soccer, El Brujo seems to have found a home in the Union midfield for years to come.