SANDY, Utah – All season – and throughout the Sounders FC’s history, for that matter – Seattle has had players step up in big moments when their number is called by head coach Sigi Schmid.
On Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium in the Western Conference Semifinals, that player was Mario Martinez.
In the 81st minute, Fredy Montero lofted a ball to the left side and it seemed to float it in slow motion as it went across his body and he unfurled an absolute rocket of a shot that danced around the fingertips of Nick Rimando, who had previously been impenetrable by the Sounders in four meetings this season, and inside the far post.
“I’m happy not so much because of the goal, but because the team actually got the win tonight,” Martinez said. “It was a great opportunity on the personal side for me to be on the field to defend the colors of the team.”
Starting in place of the injured Mauro Rosales, Martinez saw his most extended MLS action since joining the team in August. Though he played just 40 minutes in three regular season matches, Martinez mad the most of his three appearances in the CONCACAF Champions League, where he notched two assists to help the Sounders to a 4-0-0 record and a berth in the quarterfinals next March against Tigres.
It’s been a busy year for Martinez, who helped Honduras qualify for the Olympics with the game-winning goal in their first group stage match against Panama, then was instrumental in their run to the quarterfinals in the Olympic Games in England.
After joining the Sounders, he continued his international exploits, playing with Honduras as they advanced to the Hexagonal round with a 3-0-1 in their final four qualifying matches, all of which had appearances by Martinez. He even scored twice in the final match, an 8-1 win over Canada the clinched advancement into the next round.
Even still, his goal on Thursday night was a special one for Martinez.
“It was one of the most important goals that I’ve scored – one that I will always remember,” he said. “I knew that I would get my chance and it was in the most important time in the playoffs. I gave everything for the team and for the people that brought me here and had confidence in me.”
The hectic year for Martinez got started with that Olympic qualifying goal on March 23 at The Home Depot Center.
Now, eight months later, he is returning to that scene as the Sounders take on the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference final beginning Sunday and concluding with the second leg on Sunday, November 18, at CenturyLink Field.