Manny Martin’s journey, from Portugal to the Oregon soccer team
Before every game, there is a moment when Oregon women’s soccer assistant coach Emanuel Martins fights back tears. It’s when everyone stands, puts their hands on their hearts and sings “The Star Spangled Banner.”
That’s when the memories flood in. He remembers playing soccer in the streets of Lisbon, Portugal, living alone as a teenager in a one-room apartment. He remembers the people who helped him and the long hours of hard work. But most importantly, he remembers how it was all worth it.
Manny’s mother, Maria “Luisa” Da Silva, raised Manny alone. He grew up playing soccer in the streets with his neighbors, using stones to mark the goals, and he dreamed of playing for the Lisbon professional team.
Manny was forced to abandon his dream at age 15. While attending to family business, his mother became stuck in civil war-stricken Angola and was unable to return home. Luisa’s absence stretched from weeks into months. Phone calls from her were rare. Manny, unable to keep up the payments on the apartment, was evicted and forced to sleep at friends’ houses or bus stops.
“It got to a point where I was borderline homeless,” Manny said.
During the colder nights, Manny rode a train that ran from Lisbon to the north side of the city in order to stay warm.
Manny lied about his age and got a job selling timeshares. Alone, he started living like a “rockstar,” clubbing, partying. When he was 17, his mother returned home from Angola. Luisa became involved with an American named Johnny Whitaker, a former child star of Family Affairs fame, who called in a favor with a U.S. Congressman to get Manny a student visa.
“He opened up the opportunity for me to come and stay with his family,” Manny said of Whitaker. “(He is) almost like a father figure to me.”
Manny landed in the U.S. on Oct. 2, 1993 and enrolled in the 10th grade at Sylmar High School in Los Angeles. At 18, he was at least three years older than most of the students in his grade, and he didn’t speak English. He was eager to finish high school and return to Portugal.
Then he met Lorena Gallegos.
“The moment I set my eyes on her, wow,” Manny said. “It was, cliché as it may sound, love at first sight.”
Suddenly, he no longer yearned for Portugal.
Manny graduated in 1995, and after spending two seasons as an assistant, he became the head coach of the Sylmar High soccer team. He led his alma mater to a 101-54-22 record in seven seasons.
“I saw a light in him light up, a passion,” Lorena said.
Along with his duties at Sylmar, Manny served as an assistant coach for Los Angeles Mission College, a team that won a conference championship, earned a No. 2 state ranking and a No. 3 national ranking.
During these years, Manny also worked at Starbucks, as a barista and later as a manager, often starting his day at 4:30 in the morning.
“We had to make it work,” Lorena said. “We had to trust that we were doing everything for the right reasons.”
In September 2000, Lorena and Manny got married. Just over a year later, their first child, Isaiah, was born.
In 2003, Manny got a job as an assistant coach at Cal Poly Pomona, where he earned a degree in kinesiology — all while raising two children with Lorena.
After three years, Manny decided he needed more time with his family. When he was offered the head coaching position at LA Mission College, he accepted.
After two years at LA Mission College, Manny got an offer from Cal Poly Pomona. When UCLA head coach BJ Snow heard about Manny’s Pomona offer, he started recruiting him to coach the Bruins – one of the best teams in the nation.
A couple of weeks later, without even applying, Manny was offered the UCLA job.
In two seasons as an assistant coach, Manny helped the Bruins mark a 34-4-6 overall record and a 16-3-3 conference record.
“There isn’t one day that I don’t appreciate the opportunities I’ve been given in this country,” Manny said. “I could wake up one day and it could all be taken away.”
Following the 2012 season, Snow left UCLA for the United States Under-17 Women’s National Team. With Snow leaving, Manny lost his job in April 2013.
But just months later, Snow invited Manny to help coach a camp with his national squad. Two camps later, Snow offered him an assistant coaching position.
“In my life, that moment when I lost something or something went in a way I didn’t want it to go, whether it is a couple weeks later or six months later, I look back. That was a positive turning point that got me here,” Manny said. He considers the setbacks to be “blessings.”
Manny then donned the uniform of the national team, with the American flag inches above his heart.
“It gave me chills to put it on,” Manny said. “I’m living the dream.”
Twenty years after arriving in the U.S., Manny was flying to China with the U.S. National Team.
Manny soon became a target for the Oregon Ducks.
“I heard nothing but great things about him,” Oregon head coach Kat Mertz said. “All the bullet points you want to hear when you’re looking for an assistant coach.”
The two had never worked together before but had worked with mutual acquaintances. Mertz had other candidates, but wanted to know if Manny was interested.
He was. But accepting the job meant Manny would have to leave the city he’d lived in for 20 years since first immigrating to the U.S. It would mean leaving his wife’s childhood home.
The couple decided to take the chance – Manny started at Oregon on June 1 and his family completed the move in mid August.
Manny emphasizes to his players that setbacks can bring about positive changes, as he’s experienced in his own life.
“It’s pretty motivational, I’ve never had a coach like that…We’re all pretty glad he came and we get that perspective from him,” junior forward Kristen Parr said.
In Manny’s first season as a Duck, the women’s soccer team finished seventh in the conference at 7-10-2 (3-7-1), an improvement from the previous year’s last place finish.
“I want to be a part of building something special here,” Manny said. “I think we’re on track, but we have a lot of work to do.”
Follow Andrew Bantly on Twitter @andrewbantly
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