Angel Martinez’s favorite moment as a member of the under-15 U.S. boys national soccer team didn’t come while play was taking place on the pitch.
Instead, Martinez’s favorite moment came just before his very first game with the national team, when the U.S. was facing India at the Torneo della Nazioni on April 28 in Palmanova, Italy.
“I think my favorite part was walking out and singing the national anthem at the beginning of the game,” the Everett native said. “I felt that was one of the best experiences I’ve ever felt, getting to represent our country.”
For the kid who grew up kicking the ball around at Kasch Park, who’s the son of Mexican immigrants, it was an affirming moment of inclusion.
It was also acknowledgment that Martinez is one of the best soccer players his age in the country.
Martinez spent the past five months traversing the world with the U-15 national team, establishing himself as a fixture in the youth national team program.
Th 14-year-old Martinez, who just began his freshman year at Mariner High School, played for the national team in two tournaments. The central defender was selected to represent the U.S. at the Torneo della Nazioni on April 23-May 5 in Italy, as well as the CONCACAF U-15 Boys Championship on Aug. 4-11 in Bradenton, Florida. Between the two tournaments he started nine of the team’s 11 games as the U.S. took on some of the best soccer-playing nations in the world.
And he did it all while being the only 2005-born player on the roster, making him the youngest player on the team.
“It was a really good experience playing against the best players in the world,” Martinez said. “When we went to Italy we played against Mexico, Slovenia, England, Norway, and at CONCACAF we played against Costa Rica and Portugal. Those experiences helped me develop as a player.”
Martinez comes from a soccer-playing family. His father, Efren, was a player and a coach. His older brothers are players.
“He grew up on the soccer fields,” Martinez’s mother, Esmeralda, said. “He’d go to his brothers’ practices and games. He practically had a ball at his feet since he could walk. He and my husband, who coached him, would stay after practice and practice shooting at Kasch Park until they turned the lights off.”
Martinez plays his club soccer for the elite Seattle Sounders FC Academy program. Last season he was a member of the Sounders’ U-15 team, but it was while he was called up for the U-17 team that he caught the attention of U.S. national team representatives for his stylish and composed play as a central defender. He was one of 28 players invited to a tryout camp in Carson, California, in February, then in March it was announced he was selected for the team for the Torneo della Nazioni.
In Italy he helped the U.S. finish third in its group, then in the consolation games came the team’s crowning moment when it defeated legendary England on penalty kicks. The U.S. was trailing 1-0 late in the game when Martinez set up the tying goal that sent the game to PKs. The U.S. won the PKs 4-2.
“That was probably the best game I had over there, against England,” Martinez said. “We gave up an unlucky penalty in the first half, but late in the second half we had a free kick, I crossed it in, there was a flick, and then the player at the back post (Kenan Hot) put it in.”
Martinez’s performances in Italy were such that he was one of the 18 players selected for the CONCACAF U-15 Boys Championship. In that tournament he was at the heart of a defense that didn’t allow a goal in its first four games before reaching the semifinals, where the U.S. lost 3-0 to a strong Portugal team. He also helped set up a goal in that tournament, carrying the ball into space and releasing left winger Federico Oliva, whose shot was blocked but put in by teammate Victor Valdez to open the scoring in a 4-0 victory over Suriname.
“The CONCACAF tournament I felt was kind of easier for us because it was a domestic tournament and it took place in the U.S., so we knew the language,” Martinez said, though he added that Portugal was the strongest team he faced in either tournament. “But in Italy we were in different hotels from other teams, and at CONCACAF we stayed in the villas where the other teams were staying. I thought that was pretty cool.
“The thing I was able to take away (from his experience with the national team) was to always keep my feet on the ground,” Martinez added. “My parents always tell me to keep my feet on the ground and never get too comfortable or too cocky.”
Martinez’s parents didn’t get to travel with him to the tournaments, but they did get to watch the CONCACAF tournament games streaming on the internet.
“It’s very exciting seeing him with that team because we’re originally from Mexico, and to see him represent the United States coming from a Hispanic family, representing the country we live in, I know it kind of sounds cheesy but it’s very emotional,” his mother said. “We’re very proud of him. He had to give up a lot of things normal kids do at his age to be where he’s at, but he really loves the game, too.”
Martinez, being a 2005-born player, still has another year of eligibility at the U-15 level. Based on his performances so far, there’s a good chance he receives further opportunities with the national team.
And just maybe, if he continues to progress as a player, Martinez will get the chance to sing the national anthem before a senior national team game one day.