On the surface, it’s forgivable for Minnesota United fans to see the acquisition of Collin Martin as a minor pick-up. Since signing a homegrown contract in 2013 with D.C. United, the Maryland native has made just 15 appearances (7 starts), and has played just 648 minutes in MLS. The fact that the Loons were able to acquire him for a 2018 4th round draft pick - more or less the least valuable asset Minnesota might have had to trade - makes it look like Martin is no big deal.
However, the former US under-20 is a real talent. Martin is a natural attacking midfielder who has had some crazy bad luck in his short career. In the early going, the issue was simply DC United’s formation. Ben Olsen preferred a 442 with two holding midfielders, leaving no natural spot for Martin. Olsen tried to use him as a wide midfielder a few times just to get him on the field, but that wasn’t a good fit.
Since then, his bigger problems have been injuries and illness. After completing the 2016 preseason, he picked up a foot injury very early in the year and was out for over five months. In 2015, it was hernia surgery followed by being diagnosed with mononucleosis. A major reason he hasn’t seen more time for DCU is that he simply has not been available to play. It was interesting to note that, having regained his fitness in time for the final few weeks of the 2015 season, Martin made the bench for United in both of their playoff games.
Martin’s game is based around his technique and vision. He’s a gifted passer and moves intelligently, which should fit into the possession-heavy approach Adrian Heath has played in the past. He also has the vision and skill to hit longer-range passes to open the field up. His lack of success wide for DC United - where the expectation is for wingers to be able to stay wide and race past a fullback - might not be an indicator of what he can do with Minnesota. In Orlando at least, Heath liked wide players who looked first to cut inside and combine with others. Martin thrives in situations where passing combinations and quick thinking are more important than raw speed.
Most likely, D.C.’s motivation in trading away a still-promising 22 year old attacking midfielder comes down to the human side of the game. The Black-and-Red are said to have spent a little over a million bucks to acquire Luciano Acosta - who is only six months older than Martin - permanently. Last year during the draft, DC United managed to land Julian Buescher, who is also capable of starting for a strong MLS team in Martin’s position. Buescher is just 23, which means that the playmaker’s role is stacked with people in Martin’s age group (an unusual situation in MLS, to be sure).
There simply aren’t enough minutes to help Martin develop, in other words. If the Acosta deal had fallen through, I imagine United would have turned to Buescher as their first-choice attacking midfielder with Martin as a capable back-up. D.C. has a history of trading young players into more favorable situations rather than hold out for the best deal, and this looks like that sort of trade. Amos Magee probably knows quite a bit about Martin’s game due to his time as an assistant coach here, and Martin goes to a team that a) has less depth in the midfield and b) will probably play a style that opens up a couple more roles for him.
As fans, our hope here was to see Martin avoid any major injuries and spend a year on loan with the Richmond Kickers in the USL. It’s easy to see why Martin would not be thrilled about that prospect, though, as he often looked a cut above at that level even when spending more of his time training with United and then joining the Kickers for a session or two before games. He’s an MLS caliber player, and perhaps with the Loons he’ll catch the run of good health and good fortune that allows him to take the next step as a player.