Columbus Crew SC’s winger Cristian Martinez is in contention to compete in the 2018 FIFA World Cup as the 21-year-old player was included on Panama’s preliminary roster for the tournament. Martinez is one of the 35 players selected by head coach Hernán Darío Gómez, who will have to narrow the squad to only 23 names by FIFA’s June 4 deadline.
The winger was last called up by his national team in 2016 before he signed with Crew SC, but his improved role with the team this season has helped him to get attention on his home country again.
Martinez was acquired on loan from Chorrillo FC on May 17, 2016 before he was eventually purchased on a full-time basis the following January. In his first Major League Soccer campaign, Martinez played five times for the Black & Gold, starting two games. He recorded one goal.
A permanent part of the roster in 2017, Martinez appeared in eight games with one start, logging 237 minutes. But with the departure of Justin Meram in the offseason, head coach Gregg Berhalter turned to Martinez to start on opening day of 2018 against defending MLS Cup champions Toronto FC.
So far in 2018, Martinez has played 11 MLS matches, with nine starts. He has recorded two assists while already setting a career high with 670 minutes played.
“Every player dreams to be in the World Cup one day,” he said at the time. “I’ve been with the national team before and I believe anything can happen in the next few months with the World Cup coming. It’s certainly a motivation for me to work twice as hard every day and hopefully I can get a new opportunity.”
Six other MLS players were included in the Panamanian list: defenders Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo), Román Torres (Seattle Sounders) and Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls) and midfielder Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes).
Panama was drawn on Group G and will face Belgium, Tunisia and England in the group stage.