In a roller-coaster ride of a season for the Montreal Impact, Felipe Martins has been a pillar of consistency in the middle of the park.
Little was known about the crafty Brazilian midfielder when he was signed prior to the 2012 Major League Soccer season. He’d spent most of his career playing in the Swiss second division. But Felipe wasted little time in opening eyes around MLS, displaying flashes of flair rarely seen in the league and a never-say-die attitude that quickly endeared him to the Stade Saputo faithful.
League observers always point to the physical nature of the league; at a tiny 5-feet-7-inches, Felipe shouldn’t thrive here. But he does.
Felipe usually has free reign to rove about the pitch in a forward midfield position, where he’s most effective. Through much of July, though, Impact coach Jesse Marsch played him a more defensive role. The results have been mixed, at best, as shown in the table below.
Martins’ monthly splits (All numbers per 90 minutes)
SP=Successful pass / UP=Unsuccessful Pass / T&PL=Tackled & Possession Lost / SC=Successful Cross / UC=Unsuccessful Cross / Int=Interception / Rec=Recovery / S=Shots / SOG=Shots on Goal
When he’s not free to get forward as often, Felipe simply doesn’t make as much of a mark on the match. For July, his passing numbers were down (although his accuracy percentage remained excellent), indicating less effective touches on the ball.
Recently, he’d been drawing less contact and fouls in dangerous areas. His shot attempts were also down by over a shot per 90 minutes compared to prior months. And after tallying two goals and two assists during five matches in June, he was held scoreless in July.
Felipe is at his best when pushing forward and causing problems for defenders with his speed and touch in the final third. Now that the Impact’s backline looks to be settled — Nelson Rivas’ head-butting antics aside — the young Brazilian should get the chance to play in a more advanced position again, and score more wonderful goals like his world-class strike against the Philadelphia Union last week.
You also can’t talk about Felipe without a little praise for the people that brought him here.
“Felipe is a player who has established himself as a very good young player in Europe and we believe he is ready to challenge himself in a top league like MLS,” Marsch said last December.
He’s proven up to the challenge, and without knowing the particulars of allocation dollars in the league’s insanely complicated cap system, Felipe is likely one of the league’s best values at $120,000 in guaranteed compensation.
If the Impact’s unlikely (but not impossible) playoff dream comes to fruition, he should get some degree of consideration for the league’s most valuable player award.
It’s a stretch, but like Felipe himself, not a big one.
Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was traded on Tuesday in a swap for Portland’s starting goalkeeper Troy Perkins. The move may open the door for Evan Bush, who much like a backup quarterback in football, has become the most popular guy in town. Bush raised eyebrows after a scintillating performance against French Ligue 1 side Lyon during a July friendly.
For Ricketts, the move out of Quebec should be a good one. Despite impressive credentials, he had become a target for fans tired of his tendency to make questionable decisions in goal.
Perkins is an experienced ‘keeper who posted a 66 per cent save percentage with cellar-dwelling Portland.
Where with a player like Felipe, you always know that you’ll get a consistent effort, Ricketts had become the antithesis of that: brilliant one moment, frustrating the next.
Jon Spratt is a freelance journalist and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow Jon on Twitter.