There is an interesting dichotomy in soccer that only really comes up in All-Star games and during the Olympic years in most competitive team sports.
One day, a player is fighting side-by-side with teammates, the next they look across the field as foes.
That is the life of an international soccer player.
There are few more glaring examples of the very distinct line between national team cohorts and club adversaries than when Sounders FC forward Eddie Johnson was in Kansas City with the US National Team for a 3-1 win over Guatemala. After the match, he boarded a private, chartered plane with US teammates Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando and flew to Seattle where the next day Johnson’s Sounders went up against Real Salt Lake, Beckerman and Rimando’s club team, in an MLS match.
We’ve seen it on many levels over the last few weeks. Johnson and Brad Evans went up against teammate Mario Martinez in a World Cup qualifying match when the US met Honduras in San Pedro Sula in February. A month later, Johnson teamed up with Herculez Gomez for the US in two dramatic matches against Costa Rica and Mexico before their club teams went head-to-head in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
In the semis, Gomez scored the lone goal in a 1-0 Sounders defeat at CenturyLink Field in the first leg of the aggregate-goal series and while the two exchanged pleasantries throughout the week, that result stuck in Johnson’s craw.
“I’ve known Herculez Gomez for some time now and I’m happy with the success he’s had in recent years,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about us. I’d be lying if I said I was happy when we lost and he scored. We’re good friends. But we’re two competitive players.”
This weekend, Martinez will be faced with the same situation.
Over the last few years, Martinez has become a staple in the Honduras National Team as has New England Revolution forward Jerry Bengtson, and the two have quickly become good friends.
And while the two may share dinner plans after the match on Saturday afternoon when the Sounders face the Revs, they will be unfazed in their focus of helping their club team to victory.
“We are good friends and teammates. We talk on the phone and we wish each other luck, but as soon as we step on the field we each go our own way,” Martinez said. “When it gets close to the game, we don’t talk much.”
At the end of the day, players relish the chance to get one up on their friends – bragging rights until the next meeting.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Martinez said. “I’m happy to be facing a great teammate, but each one has to defend their own team and I’m going to try to win the game.”