UPDATE (Wednesday Oct. 7, 10:30 am ET):Philadelphia Union midfielder Jose Martinez will indeed travel with Venezuela for the Conmebol country’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jonathan Tannenwald confirmed. As Tannenwald outlined, FIFA intervened and threatened the club with punishment if the No. 6 wasn't released, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic and travel concerns.
Martinez tweeted a photo Wednesday morning aboard an airplane as he prepared to join La Vinotinto for games against Colombia (Oct. 9) and Paraguay (Oct. 13). Should the 26-year-old feature, he’d make his international debut.
Some speculation arose after El Brujo’s agency tweeted early Wednesday morning that he’d be departing Philadelphia to join Venezuela as they seek to qualify for the 2022 tournament in Qatar. Given the length of the trip and necessary quarantine periods, he's expected to be unavailable for MLS selection until Oct. 28 and miss five games.
It’s Martinez’s first year in Philadelphia after he was acquired via transfer last December from Zulia FC. A combative midfielder, he’s earned six yellow cards in 12 matches.
Venezuelan men’s national team manager Jose Peseiro called up five MLS players for the October FIFA international matches. Three have been released by their clubs — Miguel Navarro (Chicago Fire FC), Cristian Casseres (NY Red Bulls) and Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy) — while the remaining two — Junior Moreno (D.C. United) and Jose Martinez (Philadelphia Union) — will not be playing for their home countries.
It would have been Martinez’s first international call-up, but he took it in stride, announcing the decision in a tweet that translates to: "From when I was little I always had the dream to play with the @SeleVinotinto. This time it did not happen. I'll keep working in the best way to be present [next time]. I'm grateful for all the positive comments and I wish blessings to my teammates. The whole country is behind you."
The defensive midfielder has been an important part of the Union’s success. So much so, that on this week’s episode of Extratime, David Gass made the case for Martinez earning the title of best d-mid in the league.
Union head coach Jim Curtin explained the decision in a press conference on Tuesday, citing the current state of the world with COVID-19 and player safety as the main reason why they didn’t release El Brujo.
“I think he’ll have many more opportunities to play for his national team," he said. "But given the unique situation that’s going on right now with COVID and you’re starting to see lots of spikes all over, the itinerary that we received from [Venezuela] just wasn’t adequate enough that we could guarantee the health and safety of the player. That’s what we put as the priority.”
Curtin acknowledged that the decision was a particularly difficult one given it delays Martinez's chance to get a first cap for his country but had no doubts that the 26-year-old would put the disappointment aside when he takes the field for the Union.
"These are unique times," he said. "I think we’ve all made difficult sacrifices during these times. I’m confident because Jose is such a strong competitor and great player that, yes there’s disappointment, but when the 90 minutes start, he’s a guy that just wants to win. He’s a guy that doesn’t want to let his teammates down. So, the emotions of things by then will be hopefully worn off and the focus will be moving forward in helping the Philadelphia Union down the stretch here in these last eight games.”
"Selfishly as a coach, the good news now is that he’ll be playing against Cincinnati and now we’re a better team when he’s on the field, certainly.”