Collin Martin is many things for many D.C. United fans. Promise, the future, a missed opportunity, hope. It's a lot to put on a 21-year-old homegrown player who has all of 13 first team appearances since signing in 2013. Today, with 27 days until United takes the field against Queretaro, we're going to spend some time thinking about the young man who wears that number for the Black-and-Red.
Promise is something the Chevy Chase native has in spades. While still playing for United's U-16 academy side, the question wasn't whether he'd play professional soccer but whether he'd skip MLS altogether and sign with a European team. A rare thing in American soccer - a U.S.-born pure #10 - he showed passing vision and chance creation abilities in the center of the park well beyond his years.
Coming from a well-educated family, Martin opted for the domestic route, playing one season at Wake Forest before becoming D.C. United's sixth homegrown signing in the midst of one of the worst seasons in MLS history (except for that U.S. Open Cup, of course). His contract allowed him to continue his studies at a university here in the District.
With that timing in mind - and the fact that got on the scoresheet with an assist on he debut less than a month after signing - you can't really blame fans who latched onto Martin as The Future of the Franchise. A few years earlier, United's second homegrown signing joined the club in the Original Worst Year Ever and went on to represent Honduras at the Olympics and the World Cup, earning United a handsome transfer fee along the way. Attacking midfielders tend to get people to salivate, but when Andy Najar is the template, expectations tend to calibrate even higher than they would otherwise.
Which probably has something to do with the narrative that's started to build around his place in the team, or lack thereof. Expectations in some corners were high enough that it was inconceivable that Martin wouldn't be getting regular starter's minutes by this point in time. A combination of tactics - Ben Olsen's systems have only very rarely had room for a pure #10 - and bad luck on injuries and health have kept Martin off the field. The bad luck was especially present in 2015, where he made no appearances for los Capitalinos. Somehow that has turned into mostly exaggerated speculation that Ben Olsen doesn't rate him (or any young players) and that he'll never break through.
And that brings us to today. With a core of veterans who are aging to one degree or another and in need of more creativity in the midfield, D.C. United is going to be looking for ways to add both youth and chance creation to the attack. Collin Martin represents both, and 86% of B&RU readers said in December they wanted to see him return for next year despite a 2015 he'll want to put well behind him.
Some of that love may have to do with how a finally healthy Martin pushed his way into the gameday roster during the playoffs, but a lot of it has to do with the promise he represents, both individually and for United to shed the dour stylistic reputation they've earned in the last couple years. We could see in this preseason whether Ben Olsen will make room for Martin in the center of the park or whether the former U.S. youth international will have to change his game to fit in at wide midfield to see any time. We could see whether Martin is willing and able to step up - or we might not.
Either way, we should be seeing quite a lot more of Martin this season; the question for 2016 is whether we'll remember it as his breakout year or another year of waiting for that promise to be realized.