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Martinez skips his way to the top

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After finally making the Eastern New York Olympic Development Program boys’ soccer team after three straight years of being the last cut, the soft-spoken, rock-solid defender from Flushing has skipped a...

By Dylan Butler

It’s all happening so quickly for Diego Martinez.

After finally making the Eastern New York Olympic Development Program boys’ soccer team after three straight years of being the last cut, the soft-spoken, rock-solid defender from Flushing has skipped a few steps and gone right to the United States Under-18 National Team.

Martinez, a standout at John Bowne last year who plays for the Brooklyn Knights, received the call two weeks ago to join the U-18 camp in Milwaukee, which started Friday.

He skipped the usual steps up the ladder, including playing for the Regional ODP team and making the national pool. The Colombian native who is a U.S. resident will train with the U-18s for nine days. During that time the team will play three exhibition matches, including one against the Canadian U-18 national team.

“When I got the phone call I was at the beach and there was a diving board and I went crazy on the board,” said Martinez, who moved to the United States with his family in 1995 when he was 9. “My family was with me at the moment and they were so happy. I couldn’t believe it.”

Martinez first caught the eye of U.S. U-18 National Team coaches Bob Jenkins and Alfonso Mondelo at the Metropolitan Oval during an exhibition game between the ODP team and the Brooklyn Knights U-18s.

When Mondelo approached Martinez, who played sweeper for ODP that day, after the game Martinez knew he had played well.

“(After the scrimmage) they asked me if I was a citizen, so right there I had a feeling that they did like how I play,” he said. “When I received the phone call it was the best news that I could have ever gotten.”

Martinez is quiet and unassuming, both on and off the field. He was recruited by several Division I schools, but many backed off when they realized Martinez would not be academically eligible this fall. But St. Francis College coach Carlo Acquista remained interested, and Martinez committed to the former St. John’s standout from Whitestone.

“He’s done well at every level he’s played at. He tackles well, he heads the ball well and he plays both sides of the field well,” said Acquista, who first noticed Martinez at an indoor tournament at Rockland Community College in January 2003. “He’s going to be, in time, a very good defensive midfielder.”

How good? Enrico Varani has coached nearly every quality player from the New York area in the last 20 years, including U.S. National Team player Chris Armas, MetroStars striker John Wolyniec and former MetroStar and current Long Island Rough Riders midfielder Jim Rooney.

“I don’t consider him different than Chris Armas or Jim Rooney. I have the highest confidence in him,” said Varani, the Eastern New York ODP coach. “He’s very calm, technically sound and physically strong.”

Opportunities like these have been rare for players from within New York City. In the past, coaches have looked on Long Island and in New Jersey but partially thanks to Mondelo, who has close ties to the city and is a former coach of the Rough Riders, Martinez has that chance.

“There’s plenty of talent in the city, there’s a lot of kids who I believe can play on the national level, but they just need more attention, more guys to support them the way all these clubs have done for me,” Martinez said. “All they need is the opportunity.”

It’s an opportunity former U.S. National Team captain and Ridgewood native Mike Windischmann had when he was younger.

“It’s great that he has this opportunity, but now it’s up to him,” said Windischmann, the Brooklyn Knights technical director who was elected into the National Soccer Hall of Fame last week. “You can put players in a position to get there and he goes there and he either succeeds or he doesn’t.”

Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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