When Sounders FC left from Sea-Tac Airport on May 25 for their match the following day against the LA Galaxy, they were prepared for a long road trip that would see them fly to Florida for the US Open Cup then back to California to face Chivas USA before they returned home.
However, Mario Martinez’s travel bag was significantly larger than his teammates. That was because his road trip was only just beginning when the Sounders topped Chivas USA 2-0 and flew back home to Seattle. Martinez, instead, got on a plane bound for San Pedro Sula, Honduras, by way of Miami to join the Honduras National Team in World Cup Qualifying matches starting on Friday.
With Honduras he will face Costa Rica on the road on June 7, Jamaica at home on June 11 and the US in Salt Lake City on June 18. By the time he returns to Seattle on June 19, he will have traveled over 14,000 air miles over the course of 26 days. So it’s understandable that he was toting more than just the duffel bag that most of his teammates brought with them on Seattle’s lengthy road trip.
“As soccer players we have to be prepared for anything and everything,” he said.
For Martinez, the matches are as important as they come. Honduras has only twice qualified for the FIFA World Cup and they are in position to do so this year. Currently at 1-1-1 with a win over the US and a draw against Mexico, Los Catrachos will look to take advantage of their remaining schedule, starting with their matches against Costa Rica and Jamaica over the course of the next week.
Success in those matches could put them in a good position through the first half of the Hexagonal Round with remaining home matches against Costa Rica and Panama in soccer-mad Honduras, where National Team players are treated as national heroes. Reaching their second straight World Cup would send the country into a frenzy.
“It will bring incredible happiness to qualify. The Honduran people are crazy about soccer. When we play, the entire country paralyzes itself,” Martinez said. “It would bring extreme happiness to the players to be able to give that to our teammates, to our families and to the people of Honduras.”
Since joining the Sounders on loan in August of 2012, he has maintained a steady position within the national team. In recent weeks, his play within Sounders FC has much more resembled his free-flowing style with Honduras as he has spent more time with his club. That time with his club has also revealed more of his personality off the field, too. He commonly jokes around with his Seattle teammates and can regularly be seen photobombing fan photos with other players, poking his smiling face into the background of the unsuspecting subjects.
On the field, he has alternated between a starting spot and a substitute role over the last six matches and has started in five of his nine appearances this year. In a 2-0 win over Chivas USA on Saturday, he set up the first goal for Seattle, playing a ball to Lamar Neagle that Neagle touched through to Obafemi Martins in behind the defense.
Later in the match, he set up another opportunity for Martins in the 62nd minute, but his shot from the left side was blocked. However, the ball played in showed a much greater understanding between the teammates.
“He’s fit in well with the team. The pass he made in the second half when he put Martins in … that’s a world class ball. He’s putting a ball between two defenders and he puts it into Oba’s path. That’s what he gives us,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s a very good passer of the ball. He’s a good playmaker. He helps us keep possession and he understands a lot more what he has to do when we don’t have the ball.”
Martinez has developed a great brotherhood with his Honduras teammates that has translated to incredible success on the field. With the Olympic team last summer, that camaraderie helped them reach the quarterfinals before falling to silver medalists Brazil.
Now, that same brotherhood is forming in Seattle and success has followed, as the Sounders are 5-1-2 in their last eight matches and have powered their way back into the playoff picture after a slow start to the season.
“I’m very happy to be here. It’s an incredible group and we back each other up,” Martinez said. “That’s very important to me.”
Martinez will miss Seattle’s match on Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, but is scheduled to rejoin the team prior to their June 22 match against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium.