When Generation adidas player Enzo Martinez (above, left) slipped all the way to No. 17 in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Real Salt Lake were happy to snap up the North Carolina product fresh off his run to a College Cup championship. The talented midfielder, originally from Uruguay, seemed a perfect fit for the technically demanding Claret-and-Cobalt.
Unless fans watched a lot of reserve matches, though, they may have forgotten he was still with the club last season. But he feels that could change this year.
"I was talking to my dad about the difference from last season," Martinez told MLSsoccer.com via phone from RSL's training camp in Irvine, Calif. "This year I feel extremely comfortable, and my confidence level has gone up a ton.
"You come in as a rookie, and you really don't know what to expect. A month earlier you are playing in the college final, and now you're out on the field playing with guys you watched on TV growing up. It was strange and sometimes you didn't know what to expect.
"This year, I've gotten so much better. I've learned so much," continued Martinez. "You're learning the system still, but I am much more comfortable with it."
Martinez admitted that one of the reasons why he may not have been on the field as a rookie was learning RSL's diamond midfield.
"At first it's very, very difficult. You have to be in great shape, but then, once you get used to it makes sense why you do what you do," Martinez said. "It becomes easier to put in the extra running, or making the extra pass because you understand the reason behind it."
Martinez knows that he has improved from last year in many aspects.
"I believe I am playing much quicker," he said. "I am taking fewer touches on the ball. I am moving better without the ball, and I am getting the ball to spots where we want it to go."
Martinez is happy with his progress, which is a good thing because he freely admits it was a tough thing last year to not even be included in the 18-man gameday roster most of the season.
"It is extremely frustrating because if it wasn't, I think I would be in the wrong choice for my career. If you are happy or content sitting on the bench, I don't think you could make it in this profession."
Martinez isn't taking anything for granted, but he feels there is reason for optimism this season.
"I think the coaches see talent in me," he said. "Being 21 and playing as a [college] championship winner to not seeing any action at all, it’s frustrating. You have to look at the veterans and see what they are doing. The way I tried to deal with it was to work harder. Even though I wasn't playing, I was proving to the coaches that I wanted to get better, to work harder and make them think I would be able to contribute to the team.
"[RSL coach] Jason [Kreis] told me that I need to make a goal to be in the top 18 every game," Martinez continued. "My goal is to try to start every game, and I believe I can get there. My dream is to start every game, and I believe I can get there if I just continue to work hard and get better."