A professional roster is always evolving, and if a club’s philosophy is driving that evolution players should arrive each season that move the team on the pitch closer to the ideal playing style of the sporting director and the head coach.
El Brujo Martinez, Philadelphia Union’s first signing of the 2019-2020 offseason, signals growth toward the aggressive, dynamic, forward-first style Philly wants to impose on their opponents.
A 25-year old Venezuelan midfielder, Martinez brings aggression, energy, and hunger to the middle of the park. He can play as a single holding midfielder or alongside a partner, doing the dirty work that can allow a box-to-box player like Ale Bedoya or Anthony Fontana freedom.
The Union’s offseason moves have pointed toward building a midfield that can physically dominate, but that doesn’t mean acquiring size and strength. Instead, it’s about being able to close spaces quickly and take off upfield the moment a turnover is forced. Martinez fits this mold perfectly. Although he won’t be as clean as Haris Medunjanin in possession, the Venezuelan suffocates opponents with relentless pressure and energy. Like Jamiro Monteiro before him, he’s a Union mid that will relish a tackle and look to play forward, starting the transitions that should result in more space and time for Brenden Aaronson as he grows from nascent to full-fledged playmaker.
Importantly, the Union are not counting on Martinez to walk into the starting lineup on day one. Although, like Sergio Santos, the potential is there for The Wizard to become a locked in starter, Philly will continue to build the midfield over the next two months so Martinez has time to find his feet in a league that puts new players through a grind of a seven month season. Expect to see a player that grows in confidence and influence as he figures out how and when to use his physical gifts, and at that point Jim Curtin will have a powerburst of energy to call on every time his side loses its intensity.
El Brujo is only one piece of the Union’s 2020 plan, but he points toward the style of play Ernst Tanner believes can make a difference in difficult road matches like the playoff game in Atlanta. In those moments, disrupting the opponent is every bit as important as controlling play; Martinez is here to disrupt, and then he will look to do even more.