Columbus Crew SC’s Wednesday match against the Chicago Fire in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup provided several Black & Gold players with a valuable opportunity to get some minutes in the 2018 season as the team fielded a reserve lineup.
That was not necessarily the case for Cristian Martínez, who has started in 10 of the team’s 15 MLS games so far, but the Panamanian also approached the match with a mindset of urgency. That’s because the 21-year-old winger is suspended in MLS and not only missed last weekend’s match against Toronto FC but will also be sidelined next Saturday against the New York Red Bulls.
Unable to help the team in two important matchups against Eastern Conference rivals, Martínez knew the Cup match should be his priority this week. And, despite the team’s setback in the penalty kick shootout, he delivered a strong performance, scoring one goal, his first of the year, and assisting Adam Jahn for a late equalizer in extra time.
“I’m happy on the personal side as I had my first goal and an assist, but I’m not pleased as we didn’t advance,” he said after the game. “I missed last match and will miss the next one too, so I knew I had to work twice as hard to keep my space in the team. I was rested and I was entirely focused on this match and that helped. I’ve been working nonstop to keep my level and to get ready to return next Wednesday.”
Martínez, who switched from the right to the left side of the field multiple times during the match, showed good chemistry with attacking midfielder Eduardo Sosa, 21, and winger Niko Hansen, 23, in some offensive buildups.
The young trio put the Fire’s defense under pressure and the Panamanian was pleased by what they managed to produce together.
“They are both very young and very fast as I am and we connect very well on the field,” the Panamanian added. “It was good to play with them and their style made things easier for me.”
The game was also valuable to help Martínez to keep his match form at a good level. Instead of going through a 16-day period without being on the field for an actual game by fulfilling his suspension, the Panamanian had to grind for 120 minutes at MAPFRE Stadium before he’s cleared to play next Wednesday against Atlanta United.
“It’s important,” head coach Gregg Berhalter commented about the opportunity of having Martínez on the field. “I mean, when you look at these upcoming games, it’s important that he doesn’t have that big of a break. Now we can look to integrate him on Wednesday into the group, but he did a good job today and we are happy.”
Other than scoring a goal and recording an assist, Martínez also converted his penalty kick in the shootout, the sixth for the Crew. The winger, by the way, showed huge confidence to chip the ball down the center of the goal.
“Honestly, I was very nervous because it was a very important penalty kick and I didn’t really think much about it,” he admitted. “I just shot and it went in.”