As Fire manager Carlos de los Cobos continues to familiarize himself with his new squad, one player he won't need to study is Salvadoran international Julio Martinez. With a resurgent performance by Los Cuscatlecos during 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying both men raised their profiles in CONCACAF - when the Mexican manager found his way to Chicago, Martinez was not far behind.
Born in Coatepeque, El Salvador, Martinez came to the Fire on loan last month from Club León of Mexico. The 24-year-old is part of a new generation of young Salvadoran players making their way to the league, looking to follow in the footsteps of previous countrymen, Raul Diaz Arce and Ronald Cerritos. A lot of credit for the new generation of Salvadorans venturing abroad goes to Carlos de los Cobos for the revitalization of the country's national team. Martinez is the first Salvadoran to sign with the Chicago Fire.
"The manager has given a lot to not only the national team but the country as well," said Martinez. "Coming in with the mentality of doing things right, he made a major impact on each player and supporter by achieving the goals we set. I felt sad when he left the national team but destiny eventually chose for us to be reunited in Chicago."
A right-sided attacking player, Martinez has a knack for scoring from distance -- both during the run of play and in dead ball situations. Perhaps his most stunning effort came in the 4-1 loss away to Mexico last October during World Cup Qualifying. Down 3-0 in the 89th minute, Martinez blasted a screaming free kick from 30 yards to the top left post that evaded Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. The result officially eliminated El Salvador from World Cup qualification, but it was previous performances during the final round that showed the former Central American power was back on the right track.
One of those performances was the early round home match against Mexico last June. Having already taken a 2-2 home draw from the United States in March, Los Cuscatlecos upset the other CONCACAF giants with Martinez netting in the 12th minute of the 2-1 victory.
"Scoring against Mexico while representing my national team was very gratifying," said Martinez. "The first results of the round gave us hope that we might achieve qualification. Unfortunately we couldn't get the points away from home but with our performances we signaled a change of course in El Salvador that has resulted in more respect from the rest of the region."
Continuously dangerous during the June encounter, that performance in part helped spring Martinez to Mexico's Club Leon last June after previously playing for Salvadoran clubs Isidro Metapan and Alianza.
"The first part of the season with Leon was tough because I arrived injured. After recuperating and getting back to training, the manager began to gain confidence in me and with that came my own confidence, which was a major impact in returning to top level soccer."
As he settles into another new side, he's thankful for a familiar coach and a welcoming squad of players.
"De los Cobos cares about each player's performance and he gives us confidence. In turn, players pay him back with hard work and dedication. With the team, we're adapting to each other and I'm adapting to the group. I know the difficulty the club has had at returning to MLS Cup and the goal for me is to help the team get back to the final and hopefully a championship - we certainly have the talent for it."