Heron Martinez lets his soccer talent do the talking.
Although the 17-year-old from Vista, California can seem a bit shy, he speaks volumes with his performances on the pitch. In fact, his statements and expressions on the field have been enough to carry him to a place where many dream of landing: Liga MX’s Club America.
Last week, SoccerNation had the privilege to not only chat with Martinez, but also with a couple of those who have watched the promising talent recently make his way down to Mexico City.
“What happened over the last two to three years is he became a bit more explosive physically, he became really quick,” said Oceanside Breakers Director of Coaching Frank Zimmerman. “He’s one of the hardest workers, honestly, that I’ve coached.”
Martinez, who first joined the Breakers soccer club when he was eight, has been mentored and guided by Zimmerman over the years.
“At practice, he was always switched on. Other kids would joke around, and he would have fun with them, but when it was time to work he was serious in his approach,” said the coach.
Thanks to his strong work ethic and talents, Martinez later shined in the 2016 Powerade Sueño Alianza tryouts. Over 9,500 players took part in the U.S. competition which was hosted in 12 cities. From that vast number of participants, only 56 earned a spot in the final National Showcase concentration in Miami, Florida.
Martinez was one of them.
“The National Showcase is a four-day concentration,” said Ana Rojas, who has worked with Alianza for the past three years. “Throughout the tour we only bring about four scouts per city, but at the National Showcase, all the Liga MX teams are invited. So, it’s about 18 scouts and whoever else; their assistants or scouting director will [also] attend.”
Along with Liga MX scouts, other representatives from MLS, USL, Ascenso MX and the Mexican national team were also set to be present.
Excited for the opportunity, Martinez looked for work on the side to pay for the trip.
“As we were calling up these players to let them know that they had been selected to attend the National Showcase, I spoke to Heron’s mom and she was so happy, so ecstatic,” said Rojas. “She mentioned to me that [pauses] he didn’t understand how the program ran. He thought that if he was selected, he would have to pay for this trip, pay for his airfare and pay for his hotel accommodations.”
“So, from the time he was selected in August to the time that we called him in October, apparently Heron had picked up a part-time job and was working that entire time to save money so he could attend the trip. I mean, we [Alianza] cover all of the costs for players, so his mom was ecstatic to find out [that he didn’t have to pay].”
Turns out, Martinez didn’t need to fund the journey. Despite this, his determination to look for work says plenty about his dedication and devotion to the game.
“He just assumed that he would have to pay for this trip, so he took on helping out at the sports park, cleaning, picking up trash and posting up goals,” stated Rojas. “This is fascinating because all of these players are going to school, playing high school soccer and doing a million other things. For him to go out of his way to start saving money to have for this trip, those are the types of stories that you don’t hear often.”
Looking back at his involvement in youth soccer, working on the side to help pay for his fees wasn’t something that was atypical for Martinez or his family.
“His mom was working our [Oceanside Breakers] snack bar and Heron would work parking and would help pick up trash to help pay for his [club] fees,” said Zimmerman. “This is a kid that could probably get a scholarship in a lot of places, but he honored what we were doing and providing for him enough, that he participated. That humble work ethic and that humility from his family is why I think he is special.”
Later making his way to Miami in October, Martinez stood out in the 2016 National Showcase, earning invitations to train with four different professional clubs. Considering the fact that he happened to be a supporter of one of these teams, his decision was a no-brainer.
“The reason I chose [Club] America was because they were more interested in me and I’ve been an America fan since I was young, so I had to take that opportunity,” explained Martinez in an interview with Soccer Nation last week.
Months later, the “Kid from Vista” is now practicing with Mexico’s most successful club.
“In America, I’m with the Sub20 [U20s]. At times, I also train with the U17s,” stated Martinez. “Over here, we train every single day from Monday through Friday. I feel like it’s more intense and you have to put in more work because everybody wants to make it to the first division.”
The battle to earn a place with Las Aguilas will be a difficult one, but as Martinez has showed in the past, the 17-year-old is no stranger to overcoming adverse situations or fighting for recognition. Who knows, it might only be a matter of time before we see the versatile defender and winger donning an America jersey at the Estadio Azteca.
The 17-year-old, who has reached a place that millions of soccer fans can only wish for, also provided some advice to those who want to follow in his footsteps.
“The advice I would give is to never give up. If you want something, you have to go for it, regardless of what other people think,” said Martinez. “Some people will tell you you’re not good enough. You just have to keep pushing through.”
Despite the fact that he will have to wait until he turns 18 in August to sign a contract, all signs seem to point to a place with the historic organization if he maintains his impressive work ethic and dedication.
This all might feel like a dream, but Martinez’s journey is just beginning.