DARIEN — What appeared to be a difficult decision for Pablo Martinez turned out to be a quick and stress-free choice.
Martinez could have played academy soccer, a year-round commitment that would have precluded him from returning to the Darien High School team. Or Martinez could come back to the Blue Wave this fall and take care of some unfinished business.
“Basically I thought I would have a better experience being the captain of the high school team in my town,” Martinez said of electing to help the Blue Wave, coming off their best season, take the final steps after losing in the FCIAC and state championship games. “Rather than playing for a new team just for one year. Had it been an earlier year maybe I would have played academy.”
Going academy would have had Martinez looking at his third team in three seasons. He transferred to Darien a year ago from Fairfield Prep. After having to sit out for 30 days due to CIAC transfer rules, he finished with 8 goals.
“I hadn’t gone to public school since kindergarten and didn’t enjoy my time at Prep,” Martinez said. “It was a really great season. We did more than anyone expected us to, played better than anyone expected us to. Personally, it was really exciting to play for a team where you have backing from your town. You’re playing for something more than just academy. When I was at Prep I didn’t really feel like I was playing for any pride or anything because it was for a private school in a town I’m not from. I felt like playing for my town meant a lot more then playing for a school like Prep.”
After not being picked in the top eight in the FCIAC coaches’ preseason poll, Darien finished the regular season with a 10-1-5 mark, one point behind top seed Danbury. The Blue Wave reached the conference final for the first time but lost to Fairfield Ludlowe, the defending champion. They regrouped and reached the Class LL final before getting shut out by Glastonbury, ending the year at 16-3-5.
“The fact that we had such a great season last year, that made last year my best year of high school so far,” Martinez said.
Darien coach Jon Bradley said once Martinez became eligible, he made a good team that much more formidable.
“You look at last year when he came in after eight games, he was a difference,” Bradley said. “We lost a lot from last year but if we stay healthy and have him on the team, we will be fine. He’s one of the best players in the league.”
Martinez had a unique transition a year ago: attending school in the town where he grew up, but knew few students.
“I didn’t have any problems adjusting to the school,” he said. “I knew some of the soccer guys from when I played travel. I felt like I assimilated well and I’m pretty close with most of the guys. It was kind of funny meeting people who are from town. It felt good.”
Bradley said he knew Martinez was weighing his options for this season but admitted not having any idea if he was going to have to fill another void on a team that was hit hard by graduations losses.
“I’ve never pressured anyone who played academy to play high school,” Bradley said. “It has to be their own decision. There are other coaches out there who put on pressure. Whoever shows up on the first day of preseason is who you’ve got.”
Bradley said Martinez’s performance will be integral to the Blue Wave’s fortunes.
“In the regular season if he can score 20 goals and we can get 15-20 goals chipped in from other players, I have no doubt we will be one of the top four or five teams in the league,” Bradley said. “He’s so unselfish that pushing him to be selfish on and off the field is actually a challenge.”
Martinez said he is excited to play an expanded role for the Blue Wave.
“Last year I didn’t get to play the full season, which was tough,” Martinez said. “This year I will get to be a captain and play the full season, and being able to lead the team is going to be awesome. It will be fun but also a good experience for me and the team.”