Phoenix's Victor Martinez is closing prep career in fine fashion
PHOENIX — When you play the position that Phoenix senior standout Victor Martinez does, being a little selfish from time to time is usually a good thing.
A striker of Martinez’s quality wants the ball, and they want to try and score virtually every time they’ve got the ball at their feet. No matter if they touch the ball 10 times or 40 times during a game, strikers think about goals and making the defense pay.
But when it comes to the ball finding the back of the net, Martinez, Phoenix’s four-year standout up front, has an admission to make.
“Honestly, I prefer assisting goals,” Martinez said with a grin. “I’d rather be the person who’s like, ‘I’m passing the ball so you can score.’ I want to give them the chance to shine. I, personally, don’t like scoring that much because I like seeing others get excited after their goal. That’s how I feel like I want to play.”
For somebody who scored 24 goals on his way to earning Skyline Conference player of the year honors as a junior during the Pirates’ pandemic-impacted spring season and has another 21 goals this fall, that’s probably a little hard to understand.
But for those who know Martinez best, be it his coaches or teammates he’s grown up with on and off the field since they were in elementary school, having your team’s best player also be its most unselfish one, well that’s just something that creates opportunities for everybody at the table to eat.
“He loves it and he’s a team guy all the way,” Phoenix head coach Chris Gallegos said of Martinez. “The nice thing is that a lot of these guys, and Victor’s been off and on with them, they’ve been teammates since they were 8, 9 or 10 years old. So, it’s been a really good family atmosphere and it really rolls itself out, plays itself out into the soccer field.”
When it comes to what Martinez has done on the field, it’s quite a lengthy list since his freshman season with Phoenix.
Martinez was an all-state selection as a freshman and sophomore. In the 2019 season as a sophomore, Martinez scored 16 goals — including five hat tricks — in leading the Pirates to their fourth straight Skyline Conference title.
Following his 24-goal campaign as a junior — in just 12 games, too — he’s picked up where he left off in the spring. Along with his 21 goals this fall, he’s dished out eight assists in helping Phoenix finish the regular season with a 12-2 record and a second-place conference finish.
Because Martinez is who he is, he is always going to be the opposition’s No. 1 priority in terms of who to try and stop.
It’s been like that four years now at Phoenix, and No. 8 knows it.
Martinez also knows this: The more attention he gets, the more chances there are to create goals for his teammates. As defenders drift to Martinez and teams put multiple players on him, that means somebody else in a Phoenix jersey has space to make a run towards goal.
“It’s like a swarm when Vic gets the ball at his feet,” Gallegos said. “They know they can’t let him loose, and if they do then he’s going to crack one off. Most of the time, his percentage is really good with goal scoring. It’s definitely a swarm mentality when he gets the ball, and he gets man-marked a lot. They will totally take a player out of his position and run around with him all over the field.
“He loves it because it’s like, ‘OK, another challenge.’ And these guys love it because they’re going to score some more goals.”
That latest challenge came Monday night in Phoenix’s regular-season finale against Skyline champion Henley.
Martinez, as you might expect, saw plenty of bodies thrown his way by the Hornets. But, despite the extra attention, Martinez still finished with what proved to be the game-winning goal in the Pirates’ 2-0 win — a 46th-minute penalty kick — as well as the initial run that led to Phoenix’s second goal.
The Henley defense, which hadn’t allowed a goal in its previous four games entering Monday, threw just about everything Martinez’s way. He was man-marked, he saw multiple defenders surround him when he had the ball at his feet and he was, like his coach knows quite well, swarmed by Henley more often than not.
“I feel like I give them a challenge because every ball I see come my way I’m going to go for it, every chance I have to get in front of the goal and score a goal I’m going to go for it,” Martinez said. “Also, it’s not like it’s just me. All of those chances of me going for goal or getting the ball, it’s part of the team because that’s where it starts. If it starts from another, it just starts as a team.”
But with a ninth goal in his last three games, Martinez was able to help Phoenix head into the Class 4A playoffs with plenty of momentum, as well as avenge a 6-2 loss to Henley earlier this month.
“We started off a little slow this year mentally, that’s where it kind of got us in the beginning. That’s OK because it helped us wake up,” Martinez said. “Since (last) Monday against Hidden Valley, I feel like that woke us up and we’re ready for playoffs.”
Gallegos, who is in his second season at the helm after taking over for Dennis Flenner prior to the pandemic, has known Martinez for the better part of the last decade.
He’s seen Martinez grow up alongside his son and the Pirates’ eight other seniors.
Martinez’s natural talent has always been obvious, and his game has grown over that same period of time.
“Full of energy … constantly,” Gallegos said with a laugh when asked how he would describe Martinez. “It doesn’t matter if he’s driving a vehicle or whatever he’s doing, it has to be at full speed, it has to be quick, done and all over the place. Just like his thought process, ‘I’m here, I’m there, I’m back over here,’ and then he gets on the soccer field and displays itself out there with his hustle and everything he does.”
After making it to the final of the Class 4A Elite 8 Showcase in the spring, leading Phoenix to a deep run in the state playoffs and extending his high school career another couple of weeks is the main thing on Martinez’s mind these days.
It would cap an incredible calendar year for Martinez — one that has been full of soccer without much of a break between the high school and club seasons.
“Just awesome,” Gallegos said of the year Martinez is having in 2021. “He’s gotten to play a lot of soccer and really his game is improving, he’s gotten a little more mature as a player and as a person, so I think having all of this time and consistently playing, he’s just becoming a better player.”
Martinez’s big fall season comes in the shadow of the one-year anniversary of the Almeda fire that destroyed an estimated 2,500 residences while burning through much of Phoenix and Talent.
Martinez’s home, as he noted, was saved. The same couldn’t be said for some of his teammates.
Amid the tragedy that happened in September 2020, Martinez and his teammates have used soccer as a way to rally together, using their strong bond off the field to support each other no matter what challenges they were experiencing.
“I feel like it helped us stay focused — not just with soccer, but in life,” Martinez said. “Even though something bad happens, we’re still capable of doing this. We didn’t let the fires stop us and we stayed together as brothers. That’s what helped us out.”
Martinez said he doesn’t know what the future holds, even though playing at the collegiate level is definitely something he would love to do. He said he will lean on his faith to make the right decision on his next step.
For a player who loves to take on a new challenge at every opportunity, playing in college would just be another one that he adds to the list.
“He’s meant the world to this program,” Gallegos said. “Having a kid like that and having that much attention just draws kids to want to play harder and better. He’s just that guy, and kids like him don’t come around too often. We’re just enjoying that he came to Phoenix and he’s just a great teammate.”
That’s most certainly the case — no matter if it’s a goal or an assist.
Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.