Collin Martin always is looking toward the next step.
Sometimes, that’s short-term, like his next preseason training session with Minnesota United FC.
Other times, it’s more into the future, like when he was on the Under-14 U.S. youth national team and already making plans on how to make the U-15 roster.
But for the first time in his life — or at least since he was a 2-year-old arranging his toys in soccer formations when he barely had mastered walking — Martin’s next step is hazy. And soccer might not even be in focus.
That’s because Martin, like many of United’s players heading into this inaugural Major League Soccer season, is treating this opportunity with the Loons as, quite possibly, his only one. The team plays Vancouver at 7 p.m. Thursday at Providence Park in Portland, Ore. It’s the first match of three in a four-team preseason tournament.
“I’m using this as my last real year to show myself,” Martin said. “If I don’t break through and have a great year, then who knows what will happen? So I’m really just putting it all out there and trying my best.”
Tonight's match will be available on YouTube. Come back to startribune.com/sports later for the link.
It might seem a little premature for the midfielder, at age 22, to pin so much on this one season. But a look at Martin’s career makes it easy to see he’s far from a rookie. In fact, Martin said when he was 8, people already were telling his mom that he was going to be a professional soccer player.
Martin, a Maryland native, joined fellow MLS side D.C. United’s youth academy when he was 14 and played there until he went to Wake Forest. He spent a year playing collegiately before signing with D.C. United as a homegrown player in 2013. He also represented the U.S. at the U-14, U-15, U-17 and U-20 levels.
But he played in only a handful of games for D.C., where major injuries set him back the past two seasons. He had groin release hernia surgery in 2015 and a fifth metatarsal repair in his right foot in 2016. Both injuries happened within a month or two of preseason and had a recovery time of three to four months.
Amos Magee, the Loons’ director of player personnel, was an assistant coach at D.C. and the team’s U-23 coach for part of Martin’s tenure at his hometown club. Magee recommended bringing Martin to Minnesota in a trade in early January.
“It’s a new start for him. It’s a chance for him to get out of his comfort zone a little bit, which he’s been in for a couple years in D.C., and get a new chance,” Magee said. “He has all the components to be an excellent … midfielder in this league, and it’s a matter now of him taking this opportunity and staying healthy and getting some minutes and getting some games.”
Magee said when it came to making player signing decisions, the club focused on finding “hungry” players with something to prove — because the club itself has that same mentality — and Martin “exemplifies it perfectly.”
“I wouldn’t think that this is do-or-die for Collin, but I’m sure he feels, in a good way, that this is a real chance for him to make an impact in MLS,” Magee said.
With Martin’s physical and technical ability, the midfielder could play into his early 30s if his body stays healthy, Magee said. “I believe he can do it, but it’s up to him.”
So far, Martin has been doing all he can on his end. United assistant coach Mark Watson said Martin has impressed the coaching staff so far in preseason, especially being a young player who hadn’t played many games recently.
“We think he has a really bright future,” Watson said. “He came in in great shape, and technically, he’s kind of surpassed what we thought.”
Martin faces stiff competition in the midfield for his desired central position, mainly from newly signed Rasmus Schuller, a Finnish national team member. But his penchant for looking ahead bodes well for his vision on the field. He has seven classes left until he earns his history degree from George Washington University.
Martin hasn’t decided what a possible post-soccer life might be like. Journalism, maybe. Something with travel.
He’s not alone in this high-stakes pursuit of a role on the team. From North American Soccer League veterans having their first go at the top division to new draft picks trying to establish themselves out of college, many of the Loons are feeling the pressure that Martin is bearing.
“I know I have a huge chip on my shoulder,” Martin said. “This is kind of like my last real big opportunity that I have, and I don’t want to let it go.
“Whether it’s we’re underdogs or we’ve been passed on a little bit, sure, I think that can only be extra motivation.”