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Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Phone calls from grandma's birthday helped seal Tomás Martínez's addition to the Dynamo family

Making Tomás Martínez a member of the Dynamo family required some patience and understanding from Matt Jordan’s family. The vice-president/general manager sealed the signing of the club’s latest Designated Player via long-distance calls during his grandmother’s hundredth birthday party.

Jordan and the Dynamo technical staff have been tracking Martínez for quite some time, painstakingly performing due diligence in the scouting process to ensure as far as possible that he is right for Houston and Houston is right for him. But this is sports. Off the field as well as on it, sometimes things happen fast and you just have to seize the moment.

“The transfer window doesn’t wait for family events unfortunately; I was at my grandmother’s 100th birthday party in upstate New York when we were finalizing the deal. I had to step away several times during the party, but in that moment it was important to be aggressive and do whatever it takes to close the deal,” Jordan said.

The Dynamo announced the signing of the 22-year-old attacking midfielder from Argentina as a Young Designated Player on Monday. Once the paperwork is complete, Martínez will join a side aiming for the playoffs in head coach Wilmer Cabrera’s first season in charge. Houston sits third in the Western Conference ahead of Wednesday’s road game against Minnesota United FC.

Martínez got the Dynamo’s attention as a member of Argentina’s roster for the 2015 South American Youth Football Championship. Argentina won the competition for Under-20s that was held in Uruguay. Forward Mauro Manotas featured for the runners-up, Colombia – and joined the Dynamo three months later.

It took a while longer to capture Martínez, but Jordan is confident he will be worth the wait, especially after he acclimatizes to his new surroundings. “We understand there is an adaptation period involved anytime we bring a new player to the team and our league, especially midseason. In saying that, we feel we’ve added a very talented midfielder who complements our already talented group of players quite well,” he said. 

The midfielder possesses a strong work ethic as well as talent and technique. “He brings quality in the final third and has the intelligence to find space between the lines to make the final pass. We also feel it’s a real positive that he’s willing to work on both sides of the ball, which is important for our team,” Jordan said.

Cabrera was watching as Martínez headed to the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he wore his country’s coveted number 10 jersey – an honor typically bestowed on playmakers. “I have known him for a very long time because in 2015 I was working with FIFA and I traveled to watch all the tournaments, Under-20, in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, so I had the chance to get to know and watch live all the players in that time, Under-20 and Under-18,” he said.

At the time, Martínez was on the books of Buenos Aires-based giants River Plate. Born in a suburb of the city, Martínez joined River Plate's youth academy at age six and made his professional debut for the club when he was 18. After loan spells in Spain and Argentina he signed for Portuguese top-division side Sporting Braga in 2016.

“We travelled to Argentina to meet with him in person and had watched him live. It’s been a very detailed and calculated process,” Jordan said. “It’s important to meet with a player in person, to get a feel for his personality, and to look him in the eye. He checked off a lot of boxes.”

One of those boxes? Enthusiasm for Houston and MLS. “He’s eager to be here and work in our city with our team and with our coaching staff, to be a part of what we’re working towards. We were competing on a world stage to bring him to Houston, there were teams within MLS interested in him, teams in Mexico, Argentina, and in Europe as well,” Jordan said.

“It’s not easy to find players with his background and formation at River Plate who are 22 years old with his profile, that have the experience in South America, Europe, and with their national team. He’s really excited to be here and to get to work with his teammates and with our coaching staff.”

He enhances a roster that is becoming a vibrant mix of young foreign- and U.S.-born players, as Jordan racks up the air miles and phone calls; the team’s other Designated Players, Erick “Cubo” Torres and Alberth Elis, are 24 and 21 respectively. “We have been working and scouting players, we don’t stop,” Cabrera said. “That is something that [Jordan] has been working almost every day. This is a collective effort.”

Ultimately, the Dynamo got their man and Jordan was there for the highlights of his grandmother’s special day along the way. “Fortunately I made it back to the party to sing 'Happy Birthday' and to see her blow out the candles,” he said. If Martínez reaches his evident potential, it’ll soon be the Dynamo’s turn to celebrate.