Orlando City made a curious splash in free agency with the signing of central midfielder Felipe Martins to a one-year contract with a club option year for 2024. Martins, 32, spent last season with Austin FC, but had his contract option declined after making 28 appearances (five starts) and playing 718 minutes with one goal and three assists during the 2022 season.
He also tweeted in Portuguese with this translation:
“I am here to win, to fight, to suffer and to bring joy to this club, to this city, to these wonderful fans! All together for one goal WIN!”
“Felipe is a player that we have watched and respected for a while,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “As an 11-year veteran of our league, he will bring needed and valuable depth, as well as important experience from his time in both MLS and at international clubs. Getting a player with Felipe’s skillset and leadership both on and off the pitch is an important step toward our 2023 goals and we’re excited to have him with us in Orlando this season.”
The Engenheiro Beltrão, Brazil native entered the league back in 2012 with the Montreal Impact (now CF Montreal), playing three seasons with the Canadian side and making 93 appearances across three seasons (86 starts), scoring 12 goals and adding 24 assists and helping his club win two Canadian championships to earn a pair of Concacaf Champions League appearances before being traded to the New York Red Bulls on Jan. 27, 2015, along with the top spot in the Allocation Order, in exchange for Eric Alexander, Ambroise Oyongo, and an international player spot.
With the Red Bulls, Martins was a mainstay in the midfield, playing and starting in all but two regular-season matches across three seasons from 2015-2017, scoring 10 goals and adding 17 assists and winning the 2015 Supporters’ Shield. The Red Bulls sent Martins to the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 2, 2018, along with $500,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) and an international roster spot, in exchange for defender Tim Parker. Martins made 29 appearances with the Caps in 2018 (24 starts), scoring once and adding seven assists. He made 18 more appearances with Vancouver in 2019 (13 starts) and scored one goal before being traded to D.C. United on Aug. 6 in exchange for $75,000 in TAM and (again) an international roster spot.
The Brazilian spent the end of 2019 and all of the 2020 and 2021 seasons with United, though injuries hampered his 2020 season. He made 43 appearances for D.C. (25 starts), but provided just one goal and six assists in his time with United. He signed with Austin this past Feb. 7.
Martins also brings a wealth of MLS playoff experience, having appeared in 14 matches (10 starts) with Montreal, New York, D.C., and Austin, although he has not scored or assisted on a goal in the postseason. He played 62 minutes across three substitute appearances in Austin’s run to the Western Conference final in 2022.
Before his arrival in Major League Soccer, Martins played in Italy, Brazil, and Switzerland. He scored 11 goals in 75 matches in Swiss football, splitting time from 2009-2011 between FC Winterthur, FC Lugano, and FC Wohlen. He played four matches with Calcio Padova after coming up through the Italian side’s youth academy.
What It Means for Orlando City
Martins seems to be a replacement for the departed Junior Urso on the surface. The 32-year-old holds a green card, so he will not occupy an international roster spot and he is likely affordable, as he made just $84,000 last season with Austin according to the MLS Players Association website.
The veteran midfielder is an agitating presence on the pitch and he won’t likely eat as many minutes at this stage of his career as Urso did the last few seasons. He has shown an ability to contribute offensively throughout his MLS career but it has been several years since he last contributed more than two goals in a season (2016, in which he scored five times, which is the number of goals Urso provided last year).
This is not a bad depth signing and (assuming the salary is not too dissimilar from 2022) it’s a cap-friendly one. It remains to be seen how much the Lions will use Martins but if they expect him to eat up Urso-esque minutes, that’s probably not realistic.
Central midfield should be more or less set for 2023 and the club will be able to focus on other areas, including re-signing some key players that Orlando City is in discussions with (Pedro Gallese, most importantly), building depth in the attacking midfield and at striker, and filling in some spots on the back line.