Collin Martin - DC team - Away vs. Orlando
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For Minnesota's Collin Martin, journey to self-acceptance began in DC

WASHINGTON — D.C. United will celebrate the city’s robust LGBTQ community at Wednesday night's match against the New York Red Bulls (8 pm ET | TV & streaming info).

Among that community’s contributions? Giving Collin Martin the confidence to live his best life.

The Minnesota United midfielder came out last month before his club's Pride Night as the only active openly gay athlete in the five major North American men’s professional sports. And while he’s in his second season for the Loons, he credits his earlier years as a Homegrown Player for D.C. as a time when he was able to process and accept his sexuality.

“D.C. was an unbelievable city for that,” Martin (pictured above, second from right) told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “Because obviously it’s very liberal and progressive, and people are very open. But more so, there’s just a ton of gay people. It’s hard to ignore that fact. So I was able to gradually each year kind of get more comfortable with it, be more open about it.”

D.C. United were also one of the first MLS teams to formally embrace the LGBTQ population. Wednesday marks the team's ninth annual United Night Out, a ticket promotion co-hosted by the city's LGBTQ Federal Triangles Soccer Club.

Martin, 23, enjoyed personal reinforcement from the connections he made in D.C. in a time when professionally, he never quite found his rhythm. A native of suburban Bethesda, Maryland, Martin made just 15 league appearances with the first team in four seasons after signing a pro deal at age 18. He was traded to expansion Minnesota in 2017 for a fourth-round draft pick.

Even so, there’s admiration from the Black-and-Red for Martin's decision to become the second openly gay player in MLS history. Robbie Rogers played four seasons for the LA Galaxy after coming out, before retiring in 2017.

“It’s something I haven’t gone through, and anytime you put yourself out there against a norm, it’s probably a little scary,” D.C. head coach Ben Olsen told MLSsoccer.com. “I love Collin. I’m very, very pleased he made the announcement. And I’m equally pleased at the support that Minnesota has shown him.”

Martin says it wasn’t until his final season in D.C. that he began coming out to coaches and some of his teammates. One of them — fellow Homegrown signing and former Wake Forest teammate Jalen Robinson — had played with Martin at least since the pair were middle schoolers.

Robinson and Martin remain good friends, to the point where the two exchanged messages about Martin potentially coming out a few days before he made it official. While not directly related, Robinson has signed on to be D.C. United's ambassador for Athlete Ally, a non-profit that works to increase inclusion of LGBTQ populations in sports.

“I know it’s a weight lifted off of his shoulders, and he paves the way for other people that are in his situation, and he gives confidence to the next man to come out,” Robinson told MLSsoccer.com. “And just as a friend, I’m just really proud of him to go above and beyond. To be confident enough in his own skin to do what he did.”

Robinson says watching Martin handle all the resulting attention is ironic, given his mild-mannered and modest nature. At the same time, he admits Martin's decision to come out falls in line with his tendency to attack challenges head on.

Just take his path to MLS. As Robinson recalled, Martin graduated high school a year early so he could begin his collegiate soccer career at age 17. He then left for the pros after only a year at Wake Forest, against the advice of his own coach, who said he wasn’t yet ready.

“Collin definitely takes some big steps,” Robinson said. “And that’s just his personality. That’s always been Collin.”

Through this latest big step, Martin has also leaned on other D.C. connections, most notably retired former D.C. and Chicago Fire attacker Chris Rolfe.

“He’s helped me a lot,” Martin said. “Just giving me a good perspective of how important it is for me to still be focusing on my job while all this craziness has been happening. And he understands the perspective of a player and what it’s like to be in the locker room. So he’s just giving me really good advice. And that’s meant a lot.”

Martin’s transition to the Twin Cities has gone as well as he could’ve hoped. He made a career-high 11 league appearances in 2017 and is on pace to beat that mark this year, his sixth pro season. Off the field, he’s found a new city and gay community as welcoming and thriving as the old ones he left.

Through it all, he’s a bit taken by the hoopla of the last few weeks, even if he understands it.

“People are still longing for people to be their authentic self, and eventually hopefully coming out won’t be such a big story,” Martin said. “But for now, we still have some progress to be made.”