Hours after announcing that José Andrés Martínez wasn’t going to Venezuela’s national team for this month’s games, the Union were forced by FIFA to let him go — and threatened with punishment if they did not.
It was a surprising turn of events after what seemed to be the end of negotiations between the Union, MLS, the Venezuelan federation and Martínez’s agent, who had taken to social media to campaign for his player’s release.
Martínez left Philadelphia Wednesday morning, and is expected to return on Oct. 14. MLS requires its players to quarantine for 10 days upon entering the United States, which means he won’t be able to play for the Union again until Oct. 28. He will miss a total of five games here.
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, the Union’s case to keep him here relied on two main points.
The first was Venezuela’s government-imposed seven-day quarantine mandate for travelers entering the country. FIFA allows clubs to block callups if there’s a government-mandated quarantine of at least five days in the club’s home or the national team’s country.
The Venezuelan federation told the Union that the national team has an exemption on that, though only after the Union’s initial objections. The Venezuelan federation sent a letter from a deputy minister who oversees professional sports and sports governing bodies, and FIFA sent a separate letter of backup.
The second was a rule put in place by CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, for its club tournaments that visiting teams can only spend 72 hours in a country. The Union understood it to apply to national team games as well, and wanted confirmation.
Venezuela plays Colombia in Barranquilla on Friday night. The federation wanted Martínez to fly to Barranquilla on Monday, and didn’t say whether he would stay there or travel on to Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, for the team’s training camp. Nor did they say how he’d get across the closed Venezuela-Colombia border.
If Martínez stayed in Barranquilla, he would have been there for more than 72 hours. If the federation had a way to get him to Caracas, the Union wanted to know. There was no answer from the federation. That’s why manager Jim Curtin mentioned the ambiguous travel itinerary in his Tuesday news conference.
The answer ultimately came Tuesday afternoon from FIFA. Not only did it force the Union to let him go, it threatened the Union with punishment by its disciplinary committee. There was no mention of whether the 72-hour rule stood, simply an order.
If the Union did not let Martínez go, he would be ineligible to play for the club from Oct. 5-18, the duration of the FIFA window plus an additional five days. That amount of time is a standard FIFA procedure. FIFA also threatened a formal sanction.
It wasn’t really a choice, and the Union knew it. Martínez’s agent announced the news early Wednesday morning, and took a victory lap on Twitter by posting the player’s itinerary.
“I go through the press conference yesterday. I speak what I’m told to speak from the league. I give the message that I thought was the truth, and then all of a sudden now wake up in the morning, and it’s changed,” Curtin said after Wednesday night’s 3-0 win over FC Cincinnati at Subaru Park.
Curtin said he didn’t have “a ton of information,” which is understandable because the negotiations weren’t his job. He also said he’s happy that Martinez gets a chance to play for his country, which is also understandable — and would be celebrated by the team in almost any other circumstance.
“A situation I’ve never been a part of,” Curtin continued. “I got the script of what to say in the press conference. … This morning, when I wake up, I see that he’s on a flight, and he’s gone.”
Venezuela’s game at Colombia on Friday kicks off at 7:30 p.m. The only broadcast in the U.S. will be via pay-per-view for $30. The Vinotinto then host Paraguay next Tuesday in Mérida at 6 p.m. That game will be available on beIN Sports' supplementary channel beIN Sports Xtra, which is distributed via a few streaming platforms including Roku. It’s also available by over-the-air TV in some cities, including Philadelphia, where it’s channel 8.4. beIN’s main cable channel will air the game on tape delay at 10 p.m.