Leagues Cup | "It's Hard to Choose a Side" - Nicole Martinez

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Ahead of NYCFC vs. Atlas FC in the Leagues Cup, we caught with one fútbol fanatic who will have divided loyalties when MLS meets Liga MX on Sunday at Citi Field…

Nicole Martinez loves her father.

As well as being a great dad, Nicole’s father Cesar passed down a love of soccer to his children, firstly as a fan, but then also as their coach for well over a decade.

“He originally made that team for me and my younger brother,” she said. “He used to play soccer as well and he would take us to his games on Sundays. From there, me and my brother picked up soccer and he wanted us to continue our soccer journey. So that's when he created that New York Kids Soccer Club, which later on he partnered up with Atlas.”

Cesar had played semi-professionally in Mexico as a central midfielder and was keen to encourage his kids’ soccer dreams. It didn’t take long for them to fall in love with the game in the same way their father had.

“My first soccer memory was in Brooklyn,” she explained. “I was playing in a co-ed team with New York Kids and I had scored a goal, and that same day it was Mexico vs. USA and Giovanni Dos Santos made an insane goal, and both my parents were there. We tried to face time and it was amazing, to score a goal and see that goal in one day.”

As time passed the New York Kids team grew and gathered more players. When Nicole reached the midpoint of her sophomore year of high school she stopped playing with New York Kids to focus on the possibility of college soccer and other opportunities – not that it stopped her dad coaching her.

Unifying the roles of parent and coach can be fraught with difficulties, and while it can present challenges, that has not been Nicole’s experience.

“My dad has made me become the player that I am now,” she said. “It was a co-ed team and always has been. I’m very grateful for that because it taught me to be tough and ruthless. I actually helped my dad to coach some of the kids [after leaving] and that's when he partnered up with Atlas F.C. a few years ago.”

Atlas is nicknamed the academy due to its extensive history of producing top Mexican internationals. The club had discussed with Cesar the idea of sending players south to test their skills and be evaluated.

To receive validation from a club like Atlas was a special moment for the family. They had grown up glued to Liga MX. Nicole recalls fondly the vibrant family gatherings where rivalries would surface in front of the television.

“My dad and my uncle support Atlas and some of some of my cousins do too,” Nicole explained. “Half of the family supports Club America. There's always a rivalry and it’s so funny because on my dad's side I have two uncles. So one of them is an Atlas fan, one is an America fan, and one is a Cruz Azul fan, so it's always been so chaotic. It was really intense growing up watching soccer with them.”


Running parallel to those raucous family gatherings was Nicole’s burgeoning soccer career. While soccer has been a passion it is also an escape. A sentiment so many who love the game can relate to, whether playing or watching, soccer can feel like the perfect antidote to the challenges of life.

“It sounds very cliche, but it makes me forget about everything and makes me focus on the game,” she said. “It doesn't matter if there have work problems or homework - the game is like my only escape from everything and just play the game.

“The soccer community itself is like amazing. Whether we play pickup, or just practice on the ball. Whether watching or playing, it is just like amazing. I love it.”


Nicole’s playing career doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon. She is currently at Queens College, but back in 2018, she was part of the Championship-winning Francis Lewis High School team. It was through that achievement she was first exposed to NYCFC.

“NYCFC invited us to come to the field when they congratulate high school teams that have been successful. That was like one of my first games seeing NYCFC, and from there it just really sparked an interest. We take the New York Kids Club to go watch some of the NYCFC games to really inspire them.”

Not for the first time, NYCFC will play Atlas this week, with Nicole left in a tricky position. Her father surprised her with tickets meaning the pair will be in the World’s Borough to watch their cultures come together.

While many in her shoes would seek to watch the game through their hands, she is at least trying to adopt a more calm approach.

“It's hard to choose [a side] with NYCFC and Atlas,” she said. “It really comes down to whoever deserves to win the game the most. At the end of the day, as long as they play really good and the team who wins deserves to win.”

Whether that will maintain itself amid the passionate atmosphere at Citi Field – akin no doubt to her family gatherings – remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, her love of soccer will never dilute.

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