skip navigation

The Many and Varied Personalities of Enzo Martinez

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 07/04/24, 3:00PM EDT


Talent, Antagonist, Big-Hearted teammate, Icon, the Legion veteran has become a USL Championship legend

Sitting in the Top 10 in Championship regular season history in minutes, goals and assists, Birmingham Legion FC's Enzo Martinez has become one of the league's iconic figures. | Photo courtesy Zach Taft / North Carolina FC

The popular on-field image of Enzo Martinez is unmistakable.

The bristling beard, the power in his motion as he takes on opponents, the incredulity in his eyes when a referee’s decision has gone against him or his side, the pure emotion of a competitor.

“I guess I’m very passionate when there’s something that I like or when I want to win something,” Martinez told “Someone that would do anything it takes to win.”

Dig deeper, though, and you find a person who is as kind and compassionate about everyone around him as he is competitive on the field. Someone who might have the most unique skillset in the USL Championship’s history.

Someone that everyone would love to have on their team.

“Every time he wants to do anything, whether it’s cornhole or anything that he can compete in, he wants to compete,” said Legion President Jay Heaps. “For me that’s what separates him from a lot of other players. It’s just that innate ability to compete at everything.”


The Competitor

Whether competing for Birmingham Legion FC, or in a game of cornhole with teammates, Enzo Martinez's drive to win remains high at all time. | Photo courtesy Jon DeBoer / Detroit City FC

Martinez’s competitiveness began at a young age. When you’ve got a brother barely a year younger than you who has the same passion, everything’s a contest.

“Anything I do, I kind of think back to those moments,” said Martinez. “When Alex and I were little, we just wanted to win everything. Everything we did, we wanted to win and wanted to make sure that we beat the other person.”

And make no mistake, the Martinez brothers were good at winning, with Enzo’s talent shining through. As a youth player he won national titles at Discoveries SC and Northwestern High School and was voted the ESPN Rise High School Boys' Soccer Player of the Decade for the 2000s.

The University of North Carolina was his next stop, where he continued to make a name for himself. After his junior season he entered the MLS SuperDraft as a Generation adidas signing.

“He was on my draft board,” said Heaps, at the time the Head Coach of the New England Revolution. “We really liked him as a staff up in New England.”

Wherever he’s gone since – especially during his career in the USL Championship for the Charlotte Independence, where he and Alex were teammates for five seasons, and Birmingham Legion FC – that competitiveness has shone through.

“I want to be able to do my job to the fullest, to the best that I can when someone trusts me as a player to put on their jersey,” said Martinez “I’m going to do everything in return for that, for the fans, for the team. I take a lot of pride in being able to go score goals if the team needs that. If the teams needs an assist, go give an assist. If the game is one-zero, the last 20 minutes of the game we need to close the game out and I get put as a D-Mid to help defend and run and tackle and win balls, I’ll do that as well.

“The biggest pride that I can take is that I will always be able to put the team first and do whatever the team needs at that moment.”


The Talent

In the USL Championship's history there might never have been a player as versatile in midfield or attack as Enzo Martinez, who is approaching 75 goals and 50 assists in his career. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

The USL Championship has boasted some remarkable players in its history.

There might not be anyone who has brought as unique a skillset as Enzo Martinez. He’s closing in on reaching 75 goals and 50 assists in the Championship’s regular season, which makes him unique. While there have been great goalscorers in the league – see the likes of Dane Kelly and Cameron Lancaster – or great assist-men – such as Kenardo Forbes or Solomon Asante – no-one has done what Martinez has done for as long as he’s done it.

“I'm a player that can play almost every position in the game except the back line,” said Martinez. “Obviously, the ability to be able to do that and to understand the game on a larger scale than just one position helps me and helps the coaches that I’ve been involved with, and the teams that I’ve been involved with. My desire is to score and win, and if I can’t score, I want my teammates to score. I’ll do anything it takes for us to win the game.”

So far this season for Legion, Martinez has played as a holding midfielder in a double-pivot, as the center of a midfield trio, as a second striker under a center forward, and even as a center forward, acting as a false nine in three-man front. That’s a versatility that’s rare to find anywhere, and what’s made Martinez an indispensable part of Legion’s success.

“He’s one of those where he’s versatile, so you can use him in different spots, but he finds the goal,” said Heaps. “If he’s around the goal, he’s going to finish, he can strike a ball. He can create for others. He occupies a lot of attention”

There is a downside to that versatility. Martinez himself acknowledges he can sometimes try to do too much, which throws the balance of the team off. The qualities he brings, however, always bring more to the table than his flaws take away.

Heaps compares him to former teammates and United States Men’s National Team players Kyle Beckerman and Steve Ralston in that regard, with Martinez a combination of Beckerman’s competitiveness and willingness to do the work foundational to a winning side and Ralston’s versatility as an attacking player, where the former Revolution star recorded 79 goals and 142 assists across the MLS regular season and playoffs in his career.

“Some guys can only score, some guys are always looking to pass,” said Heaps. “I think that was what I loved about Steve Ralston was he could drop a 10 goal, 10 assist season no problem, and I think that you need to be that balanced.”


The Antagonist

Enzo Martinez's on-field combativeness toward opponents and referees has made him stand out as well as his talent. | Photo courtesy Birmingham Legion FC

Enzo Martinez has a confession to make – he really likes and appreciates the referees around the USL Championship.

“Honestly, I love all of them,” he said. “I really do. I know that once I’m done playing and I retire, I would love to buy every single referee that has to ref me a beer. That’s my dream, because honestly, I’ll be the first one to say that my behavior needs to get better in that sense. It’s just at that moment, the amount of passion that I’m living play with, it’s so quick to have those reactions.

“I appreciate all of them. Because if it weren’t for them, none of us would be able to live this dream and play this beautiful game that we love.”

Martinez plays on the edge. He’s earned 50 yellow cards in his 236 regular season appearances in the USL Championship. Through the longevity of his career, his on-field demeanor and the heartbreak he’s caused other fanbases in big moments during his career, he’s become a favorite target for the ire of opposing fans.

If there’s a truth Martinez has learned in his career, though, it’s everyone wants the same thing.

“The cool thing is that after games, anytime I ran into a lot of those opposing fans, we were able to have good long conversations with them,” said Martinez. “Just recently I was able to talk to one of the fans from an opposing team and I just said, ‘you know, we have a lot in common.’ … We’re very similar to those fans that love their team, that support their team, that will do anything for her team.”

When he was competing for the Charlotte Independence, that was true of fans of Birmingham Legion FC, who heckled Martinez whenever he arrived in the Magic City. In other instances, that might have made for awkwardness when Martinez signed with Legion to remain in the Championship when the Independence moved to USL League One in 2022.

Martinez’s demeanor away from the field quickly won anyone with misgivings over.

“The radio personality down here, Scott Register, he’s our radio partner but he just felt the same way [when we signed him], ‘oh, I just love to hate him,’” added Heaps. “Then he met him and did an interview for him, and within 30 seconds after the interview I got a call from Scott saying, ‘this guy couldn't be more true.’

“Enzo just really comes across as genuine in all of his responses off the field.”


The Big Heart

In contrast with his playing persona, Enzo Martinez's off-field personality has made him friends and fans wherever he has played throughout his career. | Photo courtesy Birmingham Legion FC

Whatever Enzo Martinez can be described as when he’s on the field, away from it he’s the complete opposite.

“When we watch them play, he sometimes takes on the villain role,” said Heaps. “But the reality is he couldn’t be a sweeter person. Knowing that, it totally messes with your thought process, knowing he's such a nice guy.”

A father of three, Martinez loves his life on and off the field. Teammates and their families are regularly at his family’s house for cookouts and social gatherings, where Martinez is a genial host.

“I like to think of myself as a very loving person,” he said. “I’ve been helped by many people that have shown me so much love since the moment I moved to the U.S., and I wouldn’t be here without that love and without those people. So, I kind of want to emulate the same thing that was given to me.”

That desire might have best been exemplified when Legion acquired goalkeeper Fernando Delgado from Real Monarchs SLC earlier this season on a short-term loan. During his time with the club, the 17-year-old stayed with the Martinez’s, providing a home away from home for the Mexican youth international.

“I think for a young player like Fernando, it was important to be in that environment, because he was going to be away from home, and the club and his mom had trusted that we could provide that for him,” said Martinez. “It was an awesome experience for my family and I, for sure.

“Last night, my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter kept asking me ‘where’s Fernando?’ The kids loved him. He played with them. When it came to dinner time, he would come up to have dinner and play with the kids and just hang out. It was really, really fun for the whole family.”

“That’s just the kind of guy he is,” added Heaps. “When you think of a player that on and off the field has an impact on a team, he is one of the special ones.”


The Icon

Enzo Martinez's 72 goals and 48 assists currently place him second all-time in the USL Championship's regular season history for goal contributions. | Photo courtesy Zach Taft / North Carolina FC

More than a decade into his professional career, the competitiveness that drives Martinez shows no signs of dimming.

So, why does that fire still burn so brightly?

“The love that I have for the game, and the desire to lift the USL Cup,” said Martinez. “I haven’t been able to do that, and I think about it every single day, in every moment that I step on the field. That’s probably where a lot of that passion comes from because I understand the impact that every play, every moment has throughout the whole season.”

It’s the ultimate motivation, to be remembered as a winner.

It’s also an ambition that for many players goes unfulfilled, and Father Time is starting to creep up on Martinez as well. Of the 557 players that have made at least one appearance in the Championship this season, Martinez is one of only 16 to have been born in 1990 or earlier.

Not that you’d notice from the way he still motors around the field alongside players a decade or more his junior.

“He goes 150 percent every time he’s on the field,” said Heaps. “I think he lives that way off the field as well. It’s not as intense in how you are with your family, but he’s all-in in every aspect of his life, and I think that shows. I think great people, great leaders, they are like that. For me, that’s a special talent.”

Whether Martinez’s career sees him lift the trophy at the USL Championship Final remains to be seen, but what’s unquestionable is when he decides to call it a career, he will have one of the greatest the league has seen. With 72 goals and 48 assists, his 120 goal contributions currently rank second only to Dane Kelly’s 132 in the Championship’s regular season, a mark it seems certain he’ll surpass.

In addition to that, there are the friendships he’s built with teammates across clubs and leagues, which continue to be something Martinez treasures as much as his on-field accomplishments.

“I’m not the type of person that I’m in touch with all my friends every single day, but when I make friendships and bonds, they’re very strong bonds that last for many years,” said Martinez. “I have guys that I’m still in touch from the first year I turned pro. Three, four weeks ago, I was able to see one of my teammates that was one of my first friends when I first turned professional 13 years ago. At the end of the day, that’s probably the thing that I will cherish the most.”

Of everything that Enzo Martinez is on and off the field, though, there’s one thing more than anything he wants to be remembered as.  

“I want to be known as a person that did everything possible for their team.”

It’s hard to imagine him any other way.

Follow the USL Championship

Most Recent News

Most Read News

Latest Videos