Thiago Martins fouls Sergio Santos, which led to his red card. (Mark Smith-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Thiago Martins won’t be in the New York City FC lineup when the team plays at Charlotte FC on Saturday.
No, he won’t be benched by interim head coach Nick Cushing for arguably playing one of the worst games by a defender in the team’s eight-year history.
He won’t be suiting up due to the red card he incurred in the 76th minute of City’s 1-1 draw with FC Cincinnati at Citi Field in Queens, N.Y. on Wednesday night.
That was after his inexcusable own goal gave the visitors a 1-0 lead in the first half.
And it could have been worse because a penalty kick originally was awarded for Martins’ foul on Sergio Santos, which resulted in “only” a red card.
That would have been the ultimate nightmare hat-trick for a defender.
But it was bad enough for a team that is trying to work itself out of a late-season funk with the playoffs getting closer day by day.
“He is severely disappointed,” Cushing said. “Mistakes happen in the game. He is such a committed guy for our team, and he’s been an incredible addition to this team in his ability, but also his leadership and the guy that he is. Mistakes happen, and I think I own a piece of it because we really wanted him to come back and play.”
Martins’ first error occurred in the 22nd minute in major blunder that will make many a highlight video.
The defender had the ball on the right flank some 40 yards out and decided to attempt an ill-advised back pass to goalkeeper Sean Johnson. There was one slight problem. Johnson was well of goal, and he rushed back in vain to stop the ball from rolling into his net as FC Cincy received a gift on a silver platter and a 1-0 lead.
“It’s an own goal,” Johnson said. “It’s unlucky, it happens. We have to get back to it and ultimately, we have to put the ball in the other net. So yeah, things happen, I make mistakes. And, it’s not the last of the mistakes that we’ll make. We have each other’s backs, and we came back after with plenty of chances, too.”
After the bonehead play, Johnson consoled his defender, putting his arm around Martins.
“I mean, at the end of the day we all make mistakes,” Johnson said. “It’s a tough own goal to concede and I know he [Thiago Martins] wanted that one back and ultimately we’re there for each other. Doing our best to cover each other in those moments, and at the end of the day we all make mistakes. I make mistakes, and the guys have had my back and we’re there for each other through thick and thin. He’s [Thiago Martins] been a big player for us this season, so it’s just unlucky.”
In many ways NYCFC was lucky in the 76th minute that a penalty kick wasn’t awarded on another play involving Martins.
He thwarted Santos just outside the penalty area. Referee Ted Unkel originally called a PK and a red card, rescinding the former call after a VAR intervention.
Instead, Cincy was awarded a free kick that Alvaro Barreal shot on goal and that Johnson parried away to keep the game even.
Despite Martin’s nightmare match, Cushing defended his defender.
“He’s committing so much for the team so much that maybe he is not a hundred percent fit, but he has such a desire,” he said. “You have seen the [FC] Dallas game, he goes off, and I am about to substitute him, but then he decides to stay on because he wants to play on. He is a warrior, and he will feel down, but there have been many really important moments already in this shirt. So, he will be down, and we will support him, but he will dust it off and move on.”
There were no comments from Martins on the NYCFC postgame quote sheet.