When he entered the game Saturday night at FC Dallas, new Real Salt Lake striker Burrito Martinez came in with a ton of weight hefted upon his shoulders. Get the team to the playoffs and oh yeah, through the labyrinth of CONCACAF Champions League. No big deal, really.
The lofty expectations that come with being a former Player of the Year in Argentina–along with Leo Messi back in 2010, as luck may have it–and last playing at a superclub like Boca Juniors makes one think Martinez had a target on his back before he even played a minute in Major League Soccer.
That much may be true for this South American superstar who doesn’t go by Juan Manuel Martinez, his birth name–but rather by Burrito. Not a flour tortilla wrapped in beans and meat, mind you–but a terminology, a nickname Argentines use to refer to a little donkey. Martinez was indeed stubborn on Saturday amid the heat and humidity of Toyota Stadium, making his presence known the minute he entered.
There Martinez was, in the No. 22 jersey, barking orders to his new teammates–veteran strikers all– like he’s been there for 1,000 years. Even if Martinez had only played mere seconds in MLS, he made every effort to be as close to the ball as possible. Throw-ins, set pieces, or in the run of play either on the wings or in the middle of the park; it didn’t matter as the former Boca Juniors star and goal scoring machine (this is must see video) did everything he could to influence the game in a positive manner.
In a number of ways, Martinez’ leadership on the field in the 25-plus minutes he played was a reminder in how Robbie Keane influenced the LA Galaxy when he came on the scene to help David Beckham and Co. lift another MLS Cup trophy–or two–a few years earlier. Keane didn’t always play massive numbers of minutes. But when the Irishman was on the field–whoa.
Like Keane, Martinez had an immediate impact on the game Saturday, even drawing a clever penalty kick by simply slowing up his dribbling run enough to have a defender from FC Dallas clatter from behind into his legs.
“He did well. He played with a lot of energy and made some good runs,” said RSL midfielder and fellow Argentine Javier Morales, who was the penalty kick beneficiary of Martinez’ efforts. “He drew the PK and showed he’s pretty dangerous. He’s going to get fit soon and get more minutes.”
Had Morales buried said penalty kick in the 78th minute, we wouldn’t be talking about what might have been. We might be talking about Martinez in the same light as Keane already. That’s how close the Boca legend was to making a serious splash in MLS this weekend.
Instead Morales’ kick clanged off the far post and out of trouble. Moments later FC Dallas surged forward on a counterattack while RSL fell asleep in the back, allowing a dagger goal to the home side resulting in a 2-0 win over Martinez, Morales and the rest of the RSL crew in muggy Dallas.
But Martinez debut was hardly much ado about nothing, as some feared. The Argentine maker of 45 career professional goals was johnny on the spot whenever RSL looked for a weakness to attack during his half hour on the pitch. While Martinez isn’t quite up to the level of Keane yet, you could certainly tell that pieces of his wildly creative arsenal might be up to speed in a hurry.