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Martinez smiling as he sports a Lebron James "MVP" shirt during Zoom interview with Al Día
Martinez smiling as he sports a Lebron James "MVP" shirt during a Zoom interview with Al Día

Jose “El Brujo” Martinez is the Philly Union’s newest star

“El Brujo” met virtually with AL DÍA to talk about his journey to the MLS, adjusting to Philly, and the power of athlete’s platforms for social justice.

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AL DÍA had the pleasure of interviewing Jose “El Brujo” Martinez, one of the Philadelphia Union’s newest acquisitions to the team this calendar year. 

Hailing from Maracaibo, Venezuela, the center defensive midfielder “El Brujo” could not be more excited to settle into his new home in Philadelphia.

Well, Media, PA, that is. Close enough to the city, close to the Union’s home of Subaru Park and the team’s training facilities.

To start the season, the Union made a run to the semi-finals in the MLS Is Back tournament.   

Martinez called the run memorable but said it didn’t end the way he expected.

“This tourney ended one game short for us,” he said. “But we were able to take a lot of the valuable lessons we learned during this bubble experience, and I could not be happier with our team.”

When asked about his own contributions to the bubble season, he said that he was able to bring what he is known for — an “effort and passion for the game.”

My journey began at my neighborhood court at the age of 7

Martinez holding his home countries flag- photo: Philadelphia Union

This sort of effort and passion for the game inspired Martinez’s move to the U.S and fueled his transfer from the Venezuelan Primera División to Major League Soccer. 

He went on to detail his humble beginnings and how his mother always supported his dedication to improving his craft. 

“You know, I know this sounds weird, but from early on, I could tell that the [school route] was not going to be for me,” said Martinez. “And my mother stood by me on that. She always knew I had this skill, and she always tells me she is thankful and proud of me, not for my decision to focus on soccer, but for the commitment I have shown for the game since then.”

He helped Zulia football club ascend to the top of Venezuela’s Primera División, reach the quarter-finals in the Copa Sudamericana, and win a Copa Venezolana, but said it wasn’t enough. 

Martinez says that his dream is to help his national team go the distance in terms of qualifying and playing in the upcoming 2022 World Cup.

But a lot has changed since “El Brujo” moved to the US in 2020. His biggest shift has been to help out his family back home.

I can say that I accomplished what I promised my mother

What he misses the most about Venezuela? 

Martinez says it’s getting to see his mother before and during all of his club matches. 

Family and that sense of community are important because of his cultural upbringing. Now it’s different. 

“In my apartment complex, I can leave out and say ‘good morning, neighbor!’ And they will just look at me without saying anything,” said Martinez. 

Speaking of brotherly love, Martinez embodies everything a Philadelphia sports fan loves about their respective athletes. He is tough, gritty, aggressive, and plays with a high motor that is seemingly unyielding — all the makings of a Philly fan favorite.

When presented with the idea, Martinez laughed and guaranteed to continue leaving his all on the field.

Martinez strikes during a match against Inter Miami FC- Photo: Philadelphia Union 

Why “El Brujo”?

But if he is to become one of Philadelphia’s favorites, fans should know where his nickname came from.

“That's all my dad,” said Martinez. “I was El Brujito before I was El Brujo. I have no idea where it comes from, but now I own “El Brujo.” It’s important to me that I hold onto that. It feels like I am bringing part of him along with me”. 

There’s just something about Martinez — the way he carries himself in conversation, the twinkle “chispa” in his eyes suggests a very lovable character and person behind the athlete whot comes to work and trains hard every day. 

He enjoys what he does, and that that sort of attitude is incredibly contagious to his teammates. 

“I always want to keep a smile on my face, to be happy, because very few of us are privileged enough to play soccer at a professional level, the most beautiful sport in all of the world,” said Martinez. 

When asked about what he brings to the team off the pitch, he didn’t hesitate: 

“I will always bring a smile and a positive attitude to my teammates,” said El Brujo. “Whether it's dancing, singing my songs, I do it to uplift my team and bring them joy.”

Martinez also mentioned he and teammate Sergio Santos have three dances they perform every time Santos scores. 

“He just has to keep scoring goals so we can come up with more,” he said.

El Brujo and Sergio Santos all smiles after they celebrate a goal- Photo: Philadelphia Union

El Brujo and Sergio Santos all smiles after they celebrate a goal- photo: Philadelphia Union

Acclimating to a new country

When asked about the difficulties of adjusting to a new country, Martinez didn’t say the language barrier, the rude neighbors, racial uprisings, and police brutality sweeping the nation. Rather the weather. 

When the Union started their training, it was at the tail end of Winter, and dealing with the cold in Philadelphia was not in Martinez’s plans. According to the player, coming from the tropical climate of Maracaibo to the cold Northeast of the U.S. was the most challenging adjustment. You can tell he is simply happy to be here and intent on making the most of his time with the Union.

An important moment for sports

But he has also taken time to reflect on the moment the U.S. is living through, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the power of athletes’ platforms to speak out against racial injustice. 

During the MLS opener, his shirt read “We Are All Equal,”, which all of the players had options to display along with unique messaging on their jerseys. 

The players also kneeled during the national anthem in solidarity with the countless fallen victims due to police brutality and racism.

Martinez said he was shocked about the issues of race still coming to light in the U.S., but gave props to the MLS and Union to handle the situation.

“I think the entire team, the entire league is doing a great job of using their platforms and amplifying the players' voices,” he said.

He and other athletes are finally saying they feel like they are being given more space and time to articulate their own thoughts and messages during such tumultuous times. 

It’s encouraging not just to the players, but to people in power across the world of sport — use your platform to speak on the perpetuated injustices that plague this country and nations across the globe.

Martinez warms up with a Black Lives Matter shirt- photo: Philadelphia Union
¡Ánimo, Brujo!
 
 
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