By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — So far, Obafemi Martins’ 2014 season has been both impressive and surprising.
Impressive because the Sounders forward has looked like a different, and significantly better player than the one who signed with Seattle as a designated player at the beginning of last season, piling up a league-high six assists. And surprising because, well, Martins has piled up a league-high six assists.
Throughout a career that has seen him play in the top leagues in the world, including the English Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A, Martins has been a goal-scorer. Before joining the Sounders, he was the leading scorer for the Spanish club Levante.
It’s not that Martins has stopped scoring goals — he has four this season — but early in his second season as a Sounder, Martins is making his mark with unselfish play. He’s gone from goal-scorer to goal-creator, one of the biggest reasons Clint Dempsey is off to such a torrid start with eight goals.
But starting with tonight’s Major League Soccer game against San Jose, Martins understands he might need to get a little greedy. Dempsey, along with Brad Evans and DeAndre Yedlin, is away with the U.S. national team preparing for the World Cup. That’s a lot of production to replace, and while others such as Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett will be expected to fill in for Dempsey, both in terms of minutes and production, the best way for Seattle to thrive without one of the league’s best players would be for Martins to build off an impressive start to the season by looking to score.
“Definitely,” Martins said when asked if he needs to focus more on scoring with Dempsey gone. “I’m a striker, I always love to score goals and everything. But what I’m doing right now, to me I’m doing well, but still I need to do better, try to score more goals.”
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid is quick to note that he’s expecting a group effort to keep his team afloat, not just more offense from Martins.
“I want us to be able to continue to play along the same lines,” Schmid said. “Obviously without Dempsey out there it changes it a little bit, just the cohesion and the dynamic a little bit. But we still need to move the ball around, we still need to combine as we have been down the middle and on the flanks as well. Not only Oba, but also Marco Pappa needs to step up and make plays, Lamar Neagle, Kenny Cooper, Chad Barrett, but I’m confident we’ll be able to do that.”
Yet if the Sounders are able to stay on top of the standings without Dempsey, they’ll almost certainly do so in large part because of Martins, which is why they should be thankful Nigerian national team coach Stephen Keshi hasn’t been overly impressed by Martins’ 2014 success. Martins, once a regular with his national team and a part of its qualifying effort for this World Cup, has been phased out of the regular rotation in the past year. He was not called in when Nigeria announced its provisional roster. Like any player, Martins would like to represent his country, but instead he’s focused on keeping a good thing going in Seattle.
“If they’re going to a World Cup, I’ll play my own World Cup with the Seattle Sounders,” Martins said. “I’m happy to be here and to play games.”
Martins, 28, has the fourth-most goals (18) in Nigerian national team history, but after representing his country in the 2010 World Cup, he is ready to move on after seeing his national team apparently do the same.
“Not a big deal,” he said. “I was there. I’ve been there and everything. … They have young players, as well, who are good. If they think they have better players that they can take there, why not? Take them. I have a team, that team is here, and I’m enjoying it and happy to be a Sounders player.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org