One of the familiar refrains we've seen in the past few years regarding D.C. United is the idea that Ben Olsen is unwilling to give his youngsters enough playing time. I've never thought that was a completely valid argument. Perry Kitchen was installed as a starter immediately, and United has never wavered over whether Bill Hamid should be the club's first-choice goalkeeper. Nick DeLeon stepped into a starting role as a rookie under Olsen. Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp, and Conor Doyle also come to mind as young, inexperienced players that got time right away.
Of course, none of that is to say that Olsen has an Oscar Pareja sort of record of playing his kids. Michael Seaton springs to mind immediately, and my personal opinion is that the club has underrated Jalen Robinson as well. Miguel Aguilar probably would have benefited from more time as well this season. The point I'm making here is that it's been a mixed bag for United's youngest players. In some cases, a lack of other options has forced Olsen to give a kid a chance; in other cases, often when the team had to choose to give a youngster an audition, those chances haven't arrived.
Collin Martin's situation has been somewhere between these two groups. Olsen gave him a combined 13 appearances in 2013 and 2014, but in 2015 the opportunities just weren't there. Martin picked up a preseason injury that eventually required surgery in April. While recovering from that, he was then diagnosed with mononucleosis. The combination of injury, surgery, and illness kept him off the training field for most of the season.
However, the Chevy Chase native wasn't completely forgotten as a result. His first appearance of the season came moments after Aguilar's game-winner against Arabe Unido in Panama, and he subbed in for Michael Farfan in the 81st minute at RFK against Montego Bay United. His role expanded by a few minutes when Arabe came to the District, and at Montego Bay he subbed in at halftime.
Really, though, the most interesting part of Martin's season didn't involve him actually playing in any particular game. Facing a playoff series against the heavily favored New York Red Bulls, Olsen opted to include Martin in his gameday squad in both legs. In the first leg, Farfan was unavailable due to injury, so the move was not earth-shattering. However, at Red Bull Arena Martin maintained his spot within the team even as Farfan was declared fit to travel. Instead, Facundo Coria was the creative central player left at home.
Obviously reading into things like this can easily turn into being wrong, but we don't have much else to discuss when it comes to Martin in 2015. For a playoff game where the only injured midfielder at the time was Davy Arnaud and where United was going to need the option of pursuing a goal via the addition of a playmaker in central midfield, the choice of having Martin take up a substitute's spot is a strong statement. Martin may not have played, but Olsen chose him over Coria despite his lack of minutes and despite his youth.
Going forward, Martin's role needs to be more clearly defined. He has often had to play right or left midfield, which has never appeared to suit his game. Martin's best role, at least in my book, is as a central midfielder. In Richmond, he has played there as well as playing a sort of second forward's role. His game is based on circulating the ball, with an emphasis on spreading the ball to either flank. Stuck on one wing or the other, he can't really do that. However, playing him out of position has at least gotten him on the field (a decision that worked out well for Kitchen).
Usage aside, I think Olsen intends to get Martin on the field. I also think, based on his play for United as well as his time with various USYNTs and at Wake Forest, that he's going to be an effective pro as long as this year's injuries were an unlucky fluke rather than a fact of life. What do you think?