Graphic by Dallas Kreil | IG: @dak_design
It’s a well-known cliche in soccer that of all the positions on the field, you have to be a little different to be a goalkeeper. You’re the last line of defense and in the modern game sometimes the first spark of a counter attack. The mix of mental and physical strength, bravery, reflexes, being able to read the game well, the need to command the penalty area and these days the ability to be good with your feet means that a good keeper is hard to find.
A great keeper is even harder.
Those who have been following the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup run of the Florida Soccer Soldiers, know that coach Daniel Godoy may have unearthed a fantastic one in Bryant Martin.
Martin’s performance in the Soccer Soldiers’ penalty kick win over the USL Championship’s Charlotte Independence in Round 2 was enough to earn him TheCup.us Player of the Round honors.
The award is voted on by TheCup.us staff, a select panel from the North American Soccer Reporters and select backers (those that pledge $10 or more) of TheCup.us’ Patreon team.
Martin beat out some very talented players for the award. Finishing in second was Saint Louis FC’s teenage goalkeeper Patrick Schulte who stopped three of four penalties in his side’s shootout win against the Des Moines Menace. Also in the conversation were Christian ‘Pato’ Diaz of Forward Madison FC, a defender who helped keep a clean sheet and scored a goal in a 3-0 road win over El Paso Locomotive, and Eddie Opoku of Birmingham Legion who was involved in all four goals in a 4-1 home win over West Chester United.
Martin has been a big reason why the Miami-based amateur side is one of just two Open Division teams left in the Third Round.
In the First Round victory against Miami FC he pulled off a string of wonderful saves to keep his opponents at bay. He’s not the biggest keeper but his acrobatic agility means he is difficult to beat. Bryant is a man enjoying playing the sport and it shows.
“I came to play for Florida Soccer Soldiers because I knew [head coach] Daniel Godoy,” said Martin, who born in Miami to Venezuelan parents. “He needed a keeper and called me and asked me to join the team. I went there and started training and I feel really good with the team. I played before with Miami United and Miami Fusion, also professionally in Venezuela with Atletico Venezuela and Deportivo Lara. The energy, the humbleness and the motivation I feel within this team, I never felt that before. This is amazing, it feels like a real family.”
That team spirit was on show in Charlotte as the Soccer Soldiers twice came from behind to take the USL Championship (Division 2 pro) team to a penalty shootout. Again Martin was a huge factor in keeping the game on level terms with the Independence and even came close to scoring with a free kick during the game. But in the penalty shootout he excelled. Stepping up and keeping his nerve to score the first penalty of the shootout and then making the decisive save to send the Soldiers into dreamland and the Third Round of the US Open Cup. A goalkeeper who isn’t overawed by being either side of a penalty kick. How can that happen?
“In this team I feel free to play, I feel no pressure at all,” said Martin. “It’s important to feel like this because your performance is always going to be very high. I feel great about it, I go to training every day and I’m motivated. Motivated because the team believes in me and I believe in the team.”
Like other Open Division teams that have put together good runs in the Open Cup you can see the chemistry in the Soldiers camp and credit has to go to coach Godoy for unlocking the potential of his players and molding them into a good side. Again, a dependable goalkeeper is a huge advantage.
“He’s an angel,” said Godoy. “He’s one of the best goalkeepers in Florida. He has experience as a professional player. He’s living his moment. He’s inspired in this team environment and he’s very motivated and that is the key. He’s a great goalkeeper and when I have a great player my job as a coach is to get the best out of them. I might not be the best coach but with this group I found a way to get the potential out of these great players.”
A trip to North Carolina FC awaits Florida Soccer Soldiers and it’s fair to say this will be the toughest test for this group so far but no one will be writing the South Florida outfit off.
“There is a magic energy every inside this group. Something is happening and we are living a good moment and we are going to fight until the end,” said Godoy.
Bryant hopes the recognition and the spotlight of the Open Cup will ultimately lead to a return to playing professionally. And he’s proudto be named the Player of the Round.
“[Winning the award] fills my heart with excitement, and takes me one step closer to my dream of being signed by a professional team once again,” said Martin. “I am leaving my heart on the field every chance I get in hopes of accomplishing my objective. I am also very grateful to have so many people cheer for our team. At the beginning, we had a very small group of supporters, people would actually make fun of our team name but now, after our two big victories, we have won the hearts of people all over the USA and that is very motivating for us and we are truly blessed to have the support of such wonderful people who have helped us make this possible. We believe in ourselves and we will give it all to win on Wednesday and stay in the Cup making our families and those cheering for us proud!”