HANOVER, N.J. — Last week, New York Red Bulls midfielder Felipe Martins played in three matches and every second of over 300 minutes of soccer over the span of seven days. His only regret is that there weren’t more games to play.
Hailed by his teammates as a testament to fitness and conditioning, Martins is the engine of a Red Bulls midfield that certainly doesn’t lack for hard workers.
That he started and went the distance in two league matches as well as the extra-time U.S. Open Cup semifinal win over FC Cincinnati, all in the span of a week, is no surprise to his teammates.
In fact, head coach Jesse Marsch says he has a hard time getting the 27-year old Brazilian ball winner to tone things down in training, such is his penchant for gusto every time he steps on the field.
On a team that closely monitors fitness and work rate, Martins consistently ranks at the top if not the very top of mileage logged in games as well as in training.
Teammate Aaron Long calls Martins “a machine — no one can do what he does.”
An almost obsessive attention to fitness is something that Martins, now in his sixth year in the league, takes very seriously.
“That’s what I prepare the whole preseason for... I love to take care of myself and always show up and be ready to go. I think that’s important,” Martins told Metro this week. “During the season, I want to play. For me, to rest is the offseason and that was my message to Jesse: If you needed me I’d be ready to go.”
And go he did last week, not missing a moment of the team’s three matches over a week’s span. It is something he is synonymous with in the locker room as he craves being on the field.
Whether it is training or a match, Martins wants in.
If there was a midweek match, he says “I’m 100 percent, I’m 110 percent actually.” This despite a grueling workload over the past week.
“Every time I step on the field, I have something to prove. I have to play for my teammates, my team, for the colors,” Martins said.
“That’s extreme motivation to do even more to get ready. I think that’s what I have been doing the past three years and what I will continue to do until I stop playing soccer.”
In 2012, Marsch brought Martins into MLS when he was the head coach of the expansion Montreal Impact. He admits to knowing about the player, having scouted him extensively as knowing the mileage he tracked in games while with Swiss club F.C. Lugano.
While Marsch knew that the midfielder was dependable and hardworking, rarely missing a game in the Swiss top-flite, he wasn’t expecting to see someone with almost a freakish ability to run play in short order.
Calling him “an incredible athlete, an incredible guy,” Marsch admits to marveling at the work and dedication Martins puts into the physical side of his game.
So much so that Marsch traded for Martins in 2015, bringing him in as a focal point of his rebuilding project with the Red Bulls.
“It is part genetics, he has a natural gift to regenerate and go again and go again and go again. I’ve been lucky enough to coach him for almost four years almost now and he always trains, he’s always available. He works so hard,” Marsch said. “It’s genetic, it’s work ethic, it’s intelligence, it’s a combination – it’s competitive will. He will never not want to play, not take a rest.”
In training, Martins is very often one of the first players on the field and he is always among the players who stay after to do extra work shooting or stretching. Once a week, the team has a yoga instructor come in and he regularly participates in those sessions.
But the work doesn’t end when he leaves the team’s facility.
At home, Martins participates in more yoga and gets professional massages. He will take an ice bath to help ease aches and pains and uses compression pants as part of his regeneration. In short, anything at his disposal both at the team’s facility or away from the playing field to stay physically ready to rack up more minutes will be taken advantage of.
His diet, by his own admission, is strict. He watches his sugar intake and rarely eats chocolate and there is no alcohol consumption. His teammates marvel at his consistency, how he never cuts a corner.
The cheat meal of choice for Felipe? Pizza he says, but even that he goes healthier with a Margherita slice.
“Basically you’re eating pasta. It’s carbohydrates and that’s it,” Martins said.