Home Support system José Andrés Martínez of the Philadelphia Union on his game against Lionel...

José Andrés Martínez of the Philadelphia Union on his game against Lionel Messi and Neymar


The list of players in the football world who have played against Lionel Messi and Neymar in their careers is quite long, but it is not so long yet.

The list of players who faced the two superstars in the same year is even shorter.

And the list of players who have faced them while playing for their country is even shorter.

Union midfielder José Andrés Martínez is part of this exclusive club. After facing Neymar at the Copa América this summer in Brazil, Martínez in a duel with Messi when Argentina visited Venezuela in a World Cup qualifier earlier this month.

“It was a great experience for me, I enjoyed it so much,” Martínez told The Inquirer this week with the help of a translator. “Any player who plays for his country does so with great happiness and pride.”

These games were the latest highs of a remarkable rise for the 27-year-old from Maracaibo, Venezuela. When the Union signed Martínez in December 2019, he had won a national team selection the previous September, but had yet to play for the national team. Vinotinto. Now he is a mainstay for the club and the country.

“In less than a year my life has changed completely,” Martínez said. “I’m just grateful for the people who are there with me, the people who support me. All of my successes, all the things that I have accomplished, I have to thank them for [that], and I dedicate my success to them.

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This support system has helped Martínez adjust to a new country and the isolation the pandemic has caused to everyone, including professional athletes.

“I have people by my side in Philadelphia who have won my love and my heart,” he said. “If it were up to me, I would play my whole career here in Philadelphia, and if I had to go to another club, I wish I could go back to Philadelphia. I love the city, I love the people, I love the atmosphere here in Philadelphia.

Martínez is particularly close to Sergio Santos, who, like Martínez, raised his notoriety by playing for the Union.

“He has become a brother to me,” Martínez said. “We respect each other, we communicate a lot, not only on the pitch, but also off the pitch. “

Recently, the Union added a second Venezuelan player to the squad, Jesús Bueno. Martínez has taken the 22-year-old newcomer under his wing.

“He’s a good boy, he’s a great football player and I hope he gets the chance to shine at the club,” Martínez said.

Raising another Venezuelan brought a big smile to Martínez’s face. This time, he was a player he could play against when the Union hosts Atlanta United on Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m., Univision 65 and TUDN): Five Stripes star forward Josef Martínez. The two are not related, but they have built a strong bond.

Josef – you’ll hear him often called by his first name on national television – has scored three goals in his last two games, nine in 21 this year and 99 in 124 career games for Atlanta.

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No one will be surprised if he scores his 100th goal in his 125th game for the club. But there’s a chance it won’t be Saturday. Josef suffers from an injury which Atlanta manager Gonzalo Pineda called “knee overload” on Thursday. Pineda told reporters in Atlanta that Martínez is from day to day.

There is a good chance that Martínez will make the trip. He might not start, but the Union will expect him to play. Atlanta (9-7-9, 36 points) is just one point and one spot ahead of 7th (9-7-8) Union in an Eastern Conference playoff race very busy.

“Although he was injured, he still scored goals,” José Martínez said of Josef. “Imagine if he wasn’t hurt.”

The two are seated at the same dining table when on national team duty, and José revealed they spoke on the phone for an hour on Wednesday.

“About personal stuff and football and this weekend’s game,” he said. “He’s a great, great player, he’s a humble person, and he’s someone I take his advice very seriously.”

Oddly enough, they’ve only faced each other once in MLS: the Union’s epic 3-0 Champions League victory in Atlanta on April 27. José was suspended for the Union home game in the series due to an accumulation of yellow cards, and they were both at the Copa América during the Union regular season game in Atlanta on the 20th. June. The teams did not face each other last year due to the MLS schedule altered by the pandemic.

“I know Atlanta United have been one of the best teams in MLS in recent years, but the Philadelphia Union has also gained a lot of respect in recent years,” said José. “I hope this weekend game is a good game, a healthy game for the fans, and that the best team on the pitch wins.”

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