American soccer players should count themselves fortunate when they step on the field. The horrific events in Charlottesville notwithstanding, they usually aren’t having to do so in the midst of daily government protests or civil unrest. Despite the heated discourse between supporters of the nation’s two major parties, it doesn’t escalate past a yelling match or a war of words on social media, and at the end of the day, many can put that to rest and find some point of agreement.
It’s a different story in Venezuela - the country has been embroiled in protest for several years and has seen hundreds of deaths occur as a result. For those from the South American nation, sports is in some ways an escape from all that.
Although Josef Martinez is here in Atlanta playing in MLS, his eyes are focused on his homeland. The 24-year-old has had stops in Switzerland and in Italy’s Serie A before his arrival here in the U.S., but feels a certain responsibility (though limited) as an Venezuelan athlete to help paint a positive picture of his country. He sat down with FourFourTwo and spoke about that in some detail.
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I hope people say that there’s a Venezuelan who is doing good things, and that someone knows about Venezuela because of me.
Martinez, of course, has exceeded expectations here in MLS. And as word of his success reaches home, his standing there increases.
“All of us in Venezuela see the news, a Venezuelan reaching success abroad,” (Martinez’ agent, Sebastian Cano) said. “With everything that’s happening in the country, kids receive this news, and it gives them a big reason to hope for the future.”
There are also some interesting quotes in the piece about how MLS is starting to enter the consciousness of Venezuelan players who look to kickstart their professional careers, where Europe previously was a primary focus. It could be that there is an influx of talent from the country thanks in part to what Martinez and other South American athletes are doing. Martinez also expressed doubt about whether the national team, La Vinotinto, should carry on with their next FIFA World Cup qualifier on August 31 against Colombia due to the civil unrest.
We can’t play … it’s a celebration when the national team plays, and my country is not in the mood to celebrate right now. Venezuela is suffering a lot. People are dying.
It certainly speaks to the insight and maturity that Martinez possesses. He’s not just a young player looking to make his mark on the professional stage; he is someone hoping to become a mentor to young players and searching for ways to help his country heal, even if it’s in a small way.