He controls the midfield with his tenacity, playing hard on the ball, setting up teammates with passes from all kinds of angles.
That's why Carlos Martinez is regarded as one of America's top young soccer prospects. But, at least for now, Martinez is no longer wearing the red, white and blue of the U.S. Martinez has been removed from the U.S. national U-17 residency team for breaking team rules. U.S. U-17 coach Wilmer Cabrera confirmed Martinez's dismissal, which took place on the weekend of Sept. 27.
Cabrera wouldn't go into specifics regarding Martinez's getting the heave-ho. However, USSF spokesman Neil Buethe said Martinez was removed "due to breaking team rules more than once," including during a team trip to Carson, Calif., last month. Martinez's father, Manuel, said that his son broke curfew during that tour.
"Carlos learned a very valuable lesson and he's hurting right now," said Martinez's agent, Jeff Jacobs. "He's extremely upset right now. It's unfortunate and we hope the door isn't closed on Carlos. I don't know much; I haven't talked to U.S. soccer. I know they recently interviewed Carlos and he was removed."
Cabrera said politely, but firmly, that Martinez should have learned his lesson already, although he wouldn't elaborate. "This is not the first time that there have been discipline issues with Carlos," said Cabrera, 41, a former Colombian national player. "He's young and he has to learn that soccer is a lifestyle. Everything is important on and off the field. I hope he's learned a lesson and will be more conscious of the coach and the team's policy."
Asked if Martinez could return to the team, Cabrera said, "Right now, not a chance. But you don't know about the future. You don't want to close the door. To lose him, one of the top players on the team, is tough. But I hope this experience helps him improve his behavior."
"I miss my friends, my coaches, the training sessions," said Martinez in a brief statement. "That was my home and I loved the whole experience. It was a dream come true. To be around kids that exceptional was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Martinez became one of the U-17's "it" players in December at the Nike Friendlies in Bradenton. He scored game-winning goals in wins over Brazil and Russia and added three goals in four games at the Mondial Minimes Tournament in France in March. Martinez was tied for the team lead in goals (five) and assists (three) when he was sent home.
What makes Martinez such an intriguing prospect is his versatility and steady improvement. But now what? Martinez still dreams of playing for the full U.S. national team one day. Jacobs has not talked to U.S. soccer officials about his client, but he wants to in the near future, hoping they will take Martinez back.
Jacobs said that Martinez is moving with his family to San Pedro, Calif. The Martinezes moved from San Pedro to Las Vegas five years ago. Last summer, Las Vegas officials made every Aug. 15 "Carlos Martinez' Day. It's a tribute to his success as the first Latino player from Sin City to play for a U.S. national youth team.
Now, Carlos, a high school junior, will go to school in San Pedro. Jacobs said Martinez will work out with an MLS team in Los Angeles, which means either the L.A. Galaxy or Chivas USA. "I'm not going to name names to create greed, publicity or hype," Jacobs said. "But I can tell you that MLS teams and first-division teams in Mexico and Europe have shown an interest in Carlos. We've been having a dialogue with several teams for a while. It has just started."
Another one of Martinez's consultants, Oliver Wyss, took him to Rotterdam, Netherlands, in August to train with Dutch pro team Feyenoord for a week. "His ability to score and his work ethic have a lot of teams interested," Wyss said. "They like his scoring ability and think he's just a complete player for his age. [Feyenoord] liked him and said they want to keep watching how he progresses."
Like other U-17 heavy hitters Joseph-Claude Gyau and Charles Renken, Martinez hoped to move to an international club after qualifying and playing in next summer's U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. Now, Jacobs said, that timetable could be sped up.
Ironically, Martinez's rise with the U-17 national team was fueled by a snub he received three years ago at a West Coast Olympic Development Program regional team tryout in Portland, Ore. By his own admission, Martinez arrived to the trial with a cocky swagger. He left in tears after being cut.
On that day, Martinez vowed to work harder. Martinez made that ODP team the very next season and was also named captain. Humbled, he proudly wore a "C" around his arm, leading some of the best U-14 players on the West Coast. Gone was the kid who was so good that he sometimes didn't think he had to take training seriously. Martinez moved on to the U-15 national team, arriving in Bradenton last year. And, now, Carlos Martinez will have to prove himself once again.
Justin Rodriguez covers the USL, NCAA and youth soccer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the soccer writer for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and can be reached at email@example.com.