Photo by Pablo Maurer/Soccer By Ives
By PABLO MAURER
CHESTER, Pa. – About 30 minutes before Saturday evening’s match between D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union, Collin Martin took to the pitch at PPL park to begin his pre-game routine. The club’s latest homegrown signing ambled towards the corner flag, stopping to stretch his leg out on an ad board.
Martin warmed up alongside Dwayne De Rosario, a man nearly twice his age. Collin was two when De Rosario started his professional career. To say the youngster looked out of place would hardly be fair, but his nerves were apparent.
Whatever tension and uneasiness the youngster felt before his first ever MLS start, however, quickly melted away after the opening whistle. Martin was on the field for 76 minutes of United’s 2-0 loss to the Union, looking comfortable and confident in midfield.
“It felt good to get a start,” Martin told SBI after the match. “It was an amazing atmosphere. It was fun to be out there with that group of guys. In the end though it doesn’t really matter because we lost; that was disappointing.”
The lineup D.C. fielded on Saturday evening was the youngest in club history. Martin was joined by Bill Hamid, Conor Shanosky, Perry Kitchen and Conor Doyle – all 21 years of age or younger. Five different homegrown players featured in the match, a testament to the club’s academy system, often considered among the best in Major League Soccer.
Martin made a good impression as a sub in last weekend’s 3-1 victory over Montreal, combining with Conor Doyle and Jared Jeffrey on D.C.’s final goal. In his first start, Martin not only impressed his teammates and fans, but also on his head coach – someone who shares the youngster’s close bond to D.C. United.
“[Collin was] great,” Ben Olsen noted after the match. “I think he is one of the guys on the field that – at least from a confidence standpoint – doesn’t care what type of game he’s in, he’s calm on the ball, he has ideas.
“The problem with Collin going forward is we have to find him a position, but I love his starting point,” Olsen said. “He’s a great soccer player and I was happy that he had a pretty good performance today.”
D.C.’s locker room is rapidly becoming the youngest in MLS, part of an effort to rebuild the franchise as it struggles to keep its head above water. Some veterans remain, however, and Martin was quick to note after Saturday’s match that players like De Rosario and John Thorrington have been eager to impart some wisdom on their young teammate.
“Yeah, it’s pretty simple what they’ve said to me,” said Martin in a hushed post-game locker room. “Do what you’ve been doing the past couple weeks in training and just have fun – in the end that’s why you play the game, to have fun and just basically work hard. If you work hard then good things are going to happen.”
He may well be right. In the midst of a dismal season, the vibe in the D.C. locker room has been a bit more upbeat in recent weeks. One senses that the club’s surprising run in Open Cup play has a lot to do with it, but a mass influx of young players – players like Martin, Jeffrey, Doyle, Micheal Seaton and Luis Silva – has also played a key part in the turnaround. Even while trudging through the worst season in MLS history, perhaps there’s reason for hope in the District. For Martin, his first MLS start is perhaps the beginning of something truly special, something he noted after the match.
“You take each milestone and you build on it. I am excited to get back to work and improve on this start.”