Mile High Matador: Spanish midfielder Jose Mari relishing his "new adventure" with Colorado Rapids
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – For anyone with a reasonably trained Spanish ear, it takes all of about 10 seconds to figure out which country José Mari comes from. The distinctive lisp that rattles off the Colorado Rapids midfielder’s tongue is as unmistakably Spanish as apple pie – or maybe The Bachelor or Chipotle – is to America.
But for those who do not speak Spanish or get a chance to speak with him in person, José Mari, whose full name is José María Martín Bejarano-Serrano, wants you to know exactly where he comes from.
When the Spaniard blasted home his two second-half golazos on Saturday in the Rapids’ 2-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, he milked his 15 seconds in the limelight parading around as a matador, letting the 21,000 witnesses at BC Place and the countless others watching on television know that yes, indeed, José Mari is a Spaniard.
“Normally, I dedicate my goals to my family or to my girlfriend,” the 26-year-old told MLSsoccer.com in his strongly accented native tongue on Tuesday. “But it’s something from my country, and I wanted to do something that identifies me as a Spanish soccer player, and the truth is I want people to know me that way. It’s something beautiful.”
El Matador was not only a matador in show on Saturday, he was a fighter on the field as well. His goals against Vancouver were the highlights of a strong all-around display that thrust the newly signed midfielder onto MLS’s radar mere weeks after making his debut in Colorado's season opener on March 15.
The first, in particular, is the leading candidate for Week 5 AT&T MLS Goal of the Week honors and has already been named ESPNFC’s Goal of the Week. The two goals – one with each foot, even – in a three-minute spurt not only left his teammates and coaches in awe, but marked the first multi-goal performance of his professional career.
“The important thing is he was looking for goal, and you could see it in the replay that he had his eye on goal as he was receiving the ball,” Colorado head coach Pablo Mastroeni said on Tuesday of José Mari’s opening strike against Vancouver. “I think that’s a great quality to have, because regardless of where you are on the field, it’s important to have that kind of vision. He just caught it flush, and it was a great goal.”
José Mari arrived in the United States two months ago, only formally joining the Rapids for the end of preseason training in February. He arrived from second-division side Real Zaragoza after two seasons in Spain’s north, the first of which he spent in La Liga prior to Zaragoza’s relegation after the 2012-13 campaign.
- Catch the latest Rapids headlines at ColoradoRapids.com
While the 26-year-old said he enjoyed his time with Zaragoza, he also said something was missing – something he believes he’s found in Denver, a mere 5,072 miles away.
“I wanted to feel important at a club,” José Mari said. “I had great teammates at Zaragoza, terrific companions, and I felt wanted in certain ways, but I didn’t feel important to the club. Now, I feel good and I feel very happy here. I want to keep working hard to maintain that feeling.
"In this club, the good thing is that we’re all important. The majority [of players] don’t play, but they’re equally important as the guys who are playing. There are  of us, and we’re all important, regardless of who’s playing. It’s a humble, hard-working club. We don’t have three or four players who are stars, like on other teams.”
He acknowledges that despite Saturday’s outburst, he’s not a goalscorer by trade – Mastroeni referred to Saturday as “icing on the cake” for the ball-distributing defensive midfielder. But there’s little question opposing defenses will now keep an eye on José Mari, hoping he will not get the chance to prance around in a fit of Spanish patriotism at their expense.
As for El Matador himself, who does not speak English (although that did not keep him from chatting with Drew Moor in a mixture of broken English and hand motions during Tuesday’s practice), his thirst for an international adventure – this is his first time playing professionally outside of Spain – has been met.
“I had offers from Greece, to stay in Spain, even Hong Kong; there were a lot of options,” José Mari said. “But I decided on this one because it was a familiar club in a beautiful city with people who cared for me and with a management with a vision to do well.
"It was a club that was similar to Real Jaen [where he played from 2010-12 in Spain’s third division], where I was, and so I decided to come here and try out a new adventure and learn a new language with my girlfriend, who is here. So far, we’re very happy with our decision.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.