This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Juan Manuel Martinez stood on the pavement a few feet from the grass inside Rio Tinto Stadium last August speaking comfortably about his decision to blaze a new trail for himself in Major League Soccer.
The former Boca Juniors star sported his new Real Salt Lake jersey and riffed on how Salt Lake City was a better fit for him, a one-time Argentina Player of the Year, than the bright lights of New York City or Los Angeles similar to what he had experienced in Buenos Aires.
Now, less than 18 months later, RSL's first million-dollar player, the man nicknamed "Burrito," is moving on. The 31-year-old forward and the club announced Wednesday they mutually agreed to part ways and terminate his contract, signaling the end of what ultimately became a disappointing tenure for the playmaker at RSL.
The move comes hours after Martinez went on ESPN in Argentina and said he asked RSL to release him of his contract, citing personal reasons. Martinez leaves RSL with eight goals and four assists in 36 regular-season starts. During RSL's late-season fade, Martinez managed one goal and one assist in the club's final 18 matches.
"I want to thank Real Salt Lake for the wonderful opportunity to play in Utah," Martinez said in a club release. "The fans were tremendous and I can't thank them enough for their support over the last two seasons. I am proud of what we accomplished in 2016 and I want to thank my teammates, the coaches, the club and our supporters for all that they did to make this feel like home."
According to salary numbers released by the MLS Players Union, Martinez had a guaranteed compensation of $1,458,666 in 2016. During his interview on ESPN in Argentina, Martinez says he'll return to Argentina for the next phase of his career.
"It's unfortunate, but there's certain things about soccer that you can't control," RSL general manager Craig Waibel told The Tribune. "He and his wife bought a house, they bought cars, it wasn't like they came here planning not to have it fit like a glove. It just didn't."
Waibel said Martinez was happy playing in Salt Lake City for RSL, but the adjustment for his young family was difficult.
"It has nothing to do with the experience or soccer with the club, it literally was a personal decision that he needed to make for his family," he said. "When I have a player come in and express the things he expressed, about the concerns he had, it's disappointing because he's such a talented player and someone I really liked and enjoyed as a human being. The human side of this can't be forgotten."
RSL's wealth of talent in the attacking half has now been severely thinned. Martinez's departure comes on the heels of the controversial exit of the team's most-productive player in history, Javier Morales. Following RSL's 3-1 first-round playoff loss at the L.A. Galaxy on Oct. 26, RSL coach Jeff Cassar revealed that Martinez had been playing through bouts of arthritis in the pubis area late in the season.
But as RSL's promising regular season hit the skids in the last two months of the year, Martinez continually showed his frustration on the field as well as being subbed off by Cassar. When Cassar chose to take Martinez off in the second half in L.A., Martinez refused to shake Cassar's hand.
Cassar later described his relationship with Martinez as "fantastic."
"No one wants to come off the field," Cassar said. "I get that. I was a player and I never wanted to be taken off. I didn't want to be taken out of the lineup. He is a passionate person, and I get that. There's no problem whatsoever between us."
The Martinez signing last summer was arguably the biggest international splash RSL had made to date. In came a flashy, technical wide forward to help RSL ease into the transition of its move to a 4-3-3 formation. And the club snagged an eager former Boca Juniors player in the prime of his career.
His first half of 2016 encapsulated why RSL spent big last summer. Martinez routinely embarrassed defenders with his trickery on the ball and showcased an ability to finish calmly inside the penalty box. Martinez manned the right side and forced teams to revolve tactical game-plans around slowing him down. The league eventually adjusted as teams crowded Martinez, who eventually became one of the top-three most-fouled players in MLS.
Martinez won't be part of RSL's long-term future like he once was, creating another sizable hole to be filled this offseason.
About Juan Manuel Martinez
Nickname • "El Burrito"
Position • Wide forward
Age • 31
Acquired • Signed on Aug. 13, 2015 as a Designated Player
Split from RSL • Club, striker mutually agreed to party ways after Martinez cited personal reasons
Stats at RSL • Had eight goals and four assists in 40 regular-season appearances the last two years
Club history • Real Salt Lake (2015-2016), Boca Juniors (2013-2015), Corinthians (2012), Velez Sarsfield (2003-2012)