Pumas had a remarkable turnaround this Liga MX season. The historic Mexico City side finished 13th in spring’s Clausura but are in this week’s final after finishing atop the table in the recently concluded Apertura.
What spurred this rebound? You don’t need to look much further than Fidel Martínez.
It’s safe to say that without Martínez, Pumas wouldn’t be in the final. In the quarterfinals against Veracruz, it was the Ecuador international who scored the goal Guillermo Vazquez’s side needed in the second leg. Then, in the first leg of the semifinal against América, Martínez sent in a beautiful cross that was headed in for the opening goal. Another goal came from a shot he created on the counter-attack. It was saved, but one of Martínez’s teammates put it back in for the second.
Martínez leads Liga MX in assists, yet he hasn’t been given as much credit for Pumas’ renewed success as players like Ismael Sosa, Eduardo Herrera and Dario Veron.
The 25-year-old winger didn’t fall out of the heavens into Pumas’ lap, but the club was lucky he was available this summer. He was one of the few bright spots on a Leones Negros team that couldn’t avoid relegation in its first year back in the top division. His six goals represented nearly half of the team’s total haul.
Though he had other suitors in the summer, especially after he secured his Mexican citizenship, Pumas signed the jewel of the descending Universidad de Guadalajara side. In Vazquez’s system, Martínez has shifted from goal-scorer to provider, showing an understanding of how to drift wide into space and provide an option, even if the ball is on the other side of the field.
He hasn’t needed to score the individual goals he did at his last stop, and he has matured beyond resorting to tricks and skill moves that only sometimes worked at Club Tijuana, his first stop in Liga MX. He was successful with the border team, becoming a regular starter and helping the team to lift the 2012 Apertura championship, but since he left the Xolos, his skill set has become more multidimensional.
Even his nickname has grown up since the move. In Tijuana, some called him “Fidelito (little Fidel). Now Martinez is more often called “Alegría,” or happiness, thanks to his habit of smiling on the pitch.