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Battery sign Cuban star striker -- and defector -- Ariel Martinez

(Photo: Provided)

DANIEL ISLAND, S.C. (BATT) -- Charleston Battery president Andrew Bell announced Wednesday that the Battery has completed the signing of 29-year-old former Cuban international striker Ariel Martinez.{}

Per club policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"Ariel received his international clearance today and will be available for selection Saturday night against Richmond," Bell said. "This is an exciting signing for the Battery, a wonderful new beginning for Ariel, and a fine piece of work by our general manager and coach, Mike Anhaeuser."

Martinez is one of the most experienced and successful Cuban international players of his generation, collecting 34 goals and 58 caps on the international stage for a team that was routinely an underdog in CONCACAF competition.{}

He is perhaps best known outside of Cuba for his spectacular hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Belize in the 2013 Gold Cup, but said he considers assisting on Cuba's lone goal in a well-played loss to the United States to be his favorite international memory.

He made headlines in the United States two months ago, first by leading underdog Cuba through the group stage of the 2015 Gold Cup, then by leaving the team in mid-July, becoming the fourth member of this year's international squad to defect during the tournament. The decision was difficult, he said, in part because he set himself the goal of waiting to slip away from the team's handlers until after Cuba had qualified for the knockout rounds.{}

The dispirited Cubans lost 6-0 against the United States in their next match.

The native of Sancti Spiritus, a historic inland city of 133,000 in Central Cuba, left behind a mother, a grandmother, and three brothers. He's been in contact with them regularly since defecting, and said they understand his motivation.{}

When not playing with the national team, Martinez starred for his hometown FC Sancti Spiritus in the Campeonato Nacional de Futbol de Cuba -- but said the quality of competition in the top league in Cuba simply doesn't compare to professional leagues in the United States.

His goal, Martinez said, is make a professional career in the U.S., and eventually sign with a team in Major League Soccer.

By joining the Battery, Martinez becomes part of a club tradition of welcoming and developing Cuban players. The club was the first stop for future Seattle Sounders All-Star midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, who left Charleston after the 2010 season. For the last three seasons the Battery has been the professional home for three of Martinez's former teammates: Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, midfielder Maikel Chang, and foward Heviel Cordoves.

Martinez didn't know much about the team before Chang, Cooper and Cordoves arrived here in early 2013, but has paid attention to the club's fortunes since.He arrived in Charleston in mid-August, roughly a month after his defection, and demonstrated his ability from his first training session.{}

Martinez has been living and training with the team while he adjusted to the United States and considered his options.

Having him on the training pitch for the past month means Coach Anhaeuser knows what he's getting in Martinez, and Martinez and his new teammates have had some time to adjust to each other's styles as the club heads into the final stage of the season.{}Charleston is assured of only Saturday's season finale with Charlotte, and a first-round playoff.

"It's a great team, very compact," Martinez said of his new squad. "I'm crazy excited to get on the field."

While Chang, Cooper and Cordoves were all considered young prospects, not proven veterans, when they arrived, Martinez has been heralded as the top attacking threat on the Cuban team for years. Typically described as a midfielder, alternately as striker, Martinez said he played "a free role" in Coach Raul Gonzalez's system.

"I roamed," he said. "I was like the conductor. I helped the team defend, but I was free."Martinez described his style of play as showcasing a lot of movement. "I play simple, I play fast, and I play happy."

The Battery (12-6-10, 46 points) earned the third seed in the 2015 Eastern Conference playoffs and will host sixth seed Richmond Saturday night at MUSC Health Stadium (gates at 6 p.m., kickoff at 7:30).{}

Tickets to the match start at $10 and can be purchased online at charlestonbattery.com or over the phone at 843.971.GOAL (4625).

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