SANDY — Real Salt Lake’s results digressed in all four games at the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando this month. It started with a promising win over Colorado, followed by a scoreless draw, a 2-0 loss and then a 5-2 ouster in the knockout round.
It wasn’t a train wreck of a showing, but big picture it wasn’t all that impressive either as the players navigated some very unique circumstances.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for RSL is what Douglas Martinez showed during his time on the field.
The young Honduran striker began the year with little expectations, but in Orlando he was RSL’s best option up top as he started three of four games, surpassing Sam Johnson as the preferred starter.
Martinez got better each game, and in the 5-2 loss to San Jose he scored an opportunistic goal on a cheeky chip over the keeper. It was his first career MLS goal.
After the match, RSL coach Freddy Juarez had nothing but praise for his young striker.
“I thought he was a big-time player for us today. I’m very proud of the team, very proud of him,” said Juarez. “We asked a lot of him today. He did a lot of running, a lot of battling, got into dangerous areas. When I assess it, he’s on the right direction of development. He gets his first goal, it almost seemed like he was involved in every opportunity that was going to come.”
Martinez began last year with the Real Monarchs, but after scoring 11 goals in 17 matches he earned a contract with the club and made one appearance toward the end of the 2019 season.
Future appearances are likely to become the norm for Martinez, who gives RSL a dynamic option up top, different than anyone else on the roster.
“He’s got to stay humble, he’s got to continue to work, he’s got to become that player with that same work ethic and then we just need to polish off some of those finishing skills, or getting shots off, quick combinations, so when he’s in dangerous areas can really punish teams when he gets the ball.” — RSL coach Freddy Juarez, on Douglas Martinez
“He’s got to stay humble, he’s got to continue to work, he’s got to become that player with that same work ethic and then we just need to polish off some of those finishing skills, or getting shots off, quick combinations, so when he’s in dangerous areas he can really punish teams when he gets the ball,” said Juarez.
After the loss to San Jose, Martinez spoke during a postgame Zoom call with reporters about his first goal and his thoughts on his extended playing time.
His humble nature came shining through.
“Yes, this is the beginning of my career,” said Martinez through a translator. “I try to be better day by day. It’s not easy because one thing is working hard to be good, a different thing is to stay good, maintain yourself in that way. I continue working hard every day to be better and to build trust and that’s something the team has given me.”
MLS hasn’t announced details of when the MLS regular season will resume, but when it does Martinez showed well enough in Orlando to expect more starting opportunities in 2020.
One of the most notable improvements Martinez made in Orlando was his positioning. He was caught going out wide way too often against Colorado, something Juarez addressed after the match.
Against San Jose, in his final start, he played more centrally and definitely caused more havoc for opposing center backs.