By John Boyle Herald Writer
One big question has dominated the Sounders’ offseason. The answer, in the form of forward Obafemi Martins, could be coming soon.
Ever since Seattle loaned out Fredy Montero, the franchise’s all-time leading goal scorer, the question on everyone’s mind — including that of head coach Sigi Schmid — is who will start at forward alongside Eddie Johnson?
Well the answer to that question could be coming soon, because according to a team source, a Sounders official is in Spain this week attempting to work out a transfer deal to bring Martins to Seattle. Reports of Seattle’s interest in Martins first surfaced last week, and Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl first reported Monday’s Sounders presence in Spain.
Martins, 28, is currently the leading scorer for Spanish club Levante, which plays in La Liga, one of the top leagues in the world. Martins, who represented Nigeria in the 2010 World Cup, has also played in Europe’s three other biggest leagues, playing for Inter Milan in Italy’s Serie A, Newcastle in the English Premier League, and VfL Wolfsburg in Germany’s Bundesliga.
Even before the departure of Montero, Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer made it clear that his team was prepared to spend big this offseason to upgrade talent if the right player was available. After Seattle acquired midfielder Shalrie Joseph last week, filling the team’s last designated player slot, Hanauer said the Sounders were still willing to, “spend money on a big DP.”
“I’d be lying if I said that we’re not very interested in acquiring another forward, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a player who potentially could fill that designated player role, of which we’ve got three right now,” Hanauer said.
So how can the Sounders sign Martins, who would certainly command a salary that would make him a designated player, if all their DP slots are full? Most likely, it will come at the expense of midfielder Christian Tiffert, who has been away from the team for most of the preseason, and who appears to be on his way out. Tiffert’s absence from the team’s preseason camp was earlier explained as being the result of an undisclosed injury. But asked about Tiffert last week, Schmid instead deferred to Hanauer, a sign that Tiffert’s absence is now a front-office issue, not a coaching one.
“There are things that are being discussed in regards to Christian, and part of that is really a better question for Adrian as to where that is,” Schmid said on a conference call last week when asked about Tiffert’s status. “He’s not with us right now; he’s training on his own there. He seems to be doing all right with the things that were bothering him at the time, but now it’s gone into maybe another phase that Adrian can address better.”
Major League Soccer’s transfer window is open until April 15, so the Martins deal would not have to get done prior to Saturday’s season opener. But if the Sounders are going to buy out Tiffert’s contract to free up a DP slot, that would have to happen by the end of the week.
Adding Martins would end the mystery up front for Seattle, which currently has an All-Star caliber forward in Johnson, but no clear answer at the other forward position. During the preseason, Schmid has looked at pairing Johnson with David Estrada and Sammy Ochoa, who were both primarily backups last year. Schmid, whose team has good depth in the midfield, has also tinkered with playing midfielders Mauro Rosales and Steve Zakuani at forward.
If Seattle is able to land Martins, however, that lineup tinkering could stop. In addition to his recent success with Levante, Martins has enjoyed big seasons in some of Europe’s top leagues. During the 2004-2005 season, he scored 11 goals for Inter in league play and 22 in all competitions. Two years later with Newcastle, he scored 11 goals in league play and 17 in all competitions. In other words, he would be that “Big DP” that Hanauer and the Sounders are looking for with their season opener now less than a week away.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.