Obafemi Martins

Obafemi Martins: Oba MVP in 2015

Seattle Sounders fans can look forward to star Obafemi Martins playing with a mighty big chip on his shoulder in 2015. MLS named L.A. Galaxy forward Robbie Keane Most Valuable Player two weeks ago over Martins. When Martins was snubbed by his national team for World Cup duty, he claimed he’d play his own Oba World Cup and dominated MLS throughout the summer. I’m looking forward to the Oba MVP season next year.

Being awarded Sounders club MVP and MLS Goal of the Year honors are some consolation for the Nigerian (Martin’s goal against the Earthquakes was a helluva strike. My wife and I were up in our regular seats, high up in the west end, and from our angle Oba’s wonder strike looked even more ubermenschian).

The race for MLS MVP was tight this year as Keane, Martins and New England’s Lee Nguyen all had stellar seasons. Most prognosticators had it down to Martins and Keane, but Keane won the award easily. Thing is, major awards always lapse behind. The establishment usually honors the status quo even as the world changes around them (think of the Grammys or how Scorcese didn’t win an Oscar ‘til “The Departed).

Oba and Keane both put up tremendous numbers, though Keane’s raw stats were slightly better: Keane: 19 goals, 14 assists; Martins: 17 goals, 13 assists. But context is key. If everything was about numbers, then Seattle merely tied both Dallas and L.A. in the playoffs.

The context of professional sports MVP is further complicated because the award is usually given successful teams and, often, champions. The fact that Keane was named MVP days after L.A. advanced past Seattle to the MLS Cup most certainly played a part. If Seattle had advanced would Oba be clearing mantle space at this very moment? Seattle won the Supporters’ Shield and Oba was the best player (sorry Deuce) on the best team over 34 games and 8 months. Yes Keane had better raw numbers, but Oba was always very much involved in the flow of the game. Even when not getting the obvious, neon-light-can’t-miss wonder strikes.

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In other Robbie Keane news from the week leading up to MLS Cup, the Irishman was spouting many crazy things. He made a clear swipe at CenturyLink Field’s playing surface in dismissing “astro turf” (as if this is the 80s). I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: the best turf is not better than the best grass. But there are horrible natural grass surfaces out there and quality turf far surpasses them. Sharing the stadium with the Seahawks contributes t more wear-and-tear, but I’d rather play downtown in a vibrant stadium and setting than on a perfect grass pitch forgotten in the suburbs any day.

Keane also claimed his breaking-down body can play for another four years. I hope you keep playing Robbie. If you’re as much of an impact in the next four years as you were in the last four games against Seattle, the Sounders will have no trouble winning the West for the foreseeable future.

Seattle Sounders Past, Present and Future: Fredy Montero, Obafemi Martins and Onyekachi Apam

Forgetting the debacle at New York and turning our attention to some of the many positive reports out of Seattle Sounders land:

In case you haven’t seen this, Fredy Montero got a nice little write-up on the MLS site. I was always a Fredy fan (I have a soft spot in my heart for mercurial genius) and I am glad he is living his dream and playing in Europe. I wish him boatloads of success, though part of me is heartened that Sporting Lisbon fans now know what it’s like to suffer through one of Fredy’s cold spells. Man, was he streaky. However, he’s always welcome in Rave Green. I do look forward to the day when he comes back to play out his career back in his adopted hometown.

When the Sounders return home, after wrapping up their epic road trip, they’ll be joined by new teammate, Nigerian international, Onyekachi Apam. Seattle announced his signing last weekend. In a nutshell: Apam is a veteran centerback with a decorated club and international career. He was captain at OGC Nice in France’s Ligue 1 before transferring to Rennes, and played on Nigeria’s 2008 silver medal winning Olympic team. He is still young, only 27, and as recently as last year was courting interest from the E.P.L. But injuries have plagued his career and recently found him unemployed.

Let’s be honest, we need help at centerback. Djimi Traore looks cooked. Last year, Djimi was a revelation but this year he’s turned into a pumpkin. Zach Scott, love him to death, but there’s a problem when he’s an unquestioned starter at centerback. And Jalil Anibaba has been a disappointment when was supposed to be the centerback of the future. I strongly wonder if Apam’s signing could be the end of Anibaba’s time in the Emerald City.

Anibaba was billed as a young veteran centerback with pace who could play outside or inside. Curious because that’s exactly how Sigi recently described Apam. Maybe back in the offseason, GM Adrian Hanaeur had this prototype in mind and sent Chris Henderson out to find this “young veteran CB with lineup flexibility and pace.” He and Henderson traded for Anibaba but are now admitting that he doesn’t fit the bill. What’s odd is that Apam was signed pretty much blind. Allegedly everyone is just taking Obafmei Martins’s word on this one. I don’t know enough about Apam to figure if he will see significant minutes starting this season, or if he was merely an insurance policy, but I am breathing easier knowing we have someone, anyone, who can play centerback that isn’t named Anibaba.

Speaking of signing Nigerians, it is being reported that the Sounders just re-upped Oba’s contract to the tune of $6+ million over two years. If these numbers prove true, Oba just doubled his salary. Hell, if I crapped money I’d have paid the man even more. It is a damn joy to watch him play.

Alrighty Sounders fans, enjoy your Tuesday. It is our last day to breath easy and not stressing about the Supporters’ Shield, the Treble, or our soccer destiny this season.

Seattle Sounders at Chicago Fire Gameday

Your Seattle Sounders can cap off their scorching start with a win at the Chicago Fire. No matter the result in Bridgeview, Illinois, no other team can unseat Seattle as MLS Apertura Champions.

On paper, the Sounders have this game in the bag. Chicago has been bumbling around the cellar of the Eastern Conference, and the injury bug has beset them. Even with league MVP Mike Magee, possibly out with a calf injury, and the always-dangerous Patrick Nyarko, knee, Chicago has not been winning. Scoring yes, but not winning. Chicago is almost Seattle-lite. They score a lot of goals and they give up a lot of goals. Too many goals, as their differential is -2 (as opposed to Seattle’s +8). Chicago, seeking to tighten their defense, did get a clean sheet Wednesday at Colorado. Former Sounders Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni are members of that shaky Chicago backline (though Ianni is out, SURPRISE!, with an injury). The Sounders look to continue their record-setting attack against a vulnerable Fire side.

Bold Prediction: Both teams are looking forward to a breather during the World Cup break. The team that best stays focused gets the result. Seattle’s attacking midfielder Marco Pappa, he of that world-class free kick last week, is making the his MLS homecoming to a former team. I see him staying razor sharp. Chicago rookie Harry Shipp shows vision and touch, and seeks to prove his mettle against big bad Seattle. So who’s gonna brain fart?

I love him but JKH is always good for some bone-headed bumbling, Obafemi Martins makes him pay. Chicago has nothing to lose and they press, hard, to equalize. Neither team is fielding an ideal eleven, though Seattle’s celebrated depth is the difference. Seattle 2-1.

Talking Seattle Sounders at Sounders Nation

My first podcast is up at Sounders Nation. Editor Brian Stern invited me to rap about the Rave Green with him on his site. We chat about the record-breaking start to the season, the upcoming game against Chicago, Obafemi Martins, and the hustle and flair of the 2014 Seattle Sounders. Also I use the word “superlative” a lot.

Obafemi Martins is World Class

Happy Monday! I am back in the land of the internet and will have a write-up from Saturday’s game up tomorrow.

Quick thoughts: Weird game. Glad we got the win, but wish we had a better showing against San Jose’s C team. But wow, Oba’s goal was world class! I could watch that all day.

Obafemi Martins: Peerless in Seattle

Happy Friday Raving Readers!

My newest post is up at Sounders Nation, check it out. I discuss Obafemi Martins MVP-caliber play and how he belongs to the Sounders.

Record-Chasing Seattle Breaks Dallas

It’s déjà vu all over again as your Seattle Sounders dispatch a pesky Dallas FC squad 2-1 on Kenny Cooper’s late game winner. Wow, the Sounders are the cardiac kids of Cascadia. Cooper’s 88th minute goal was the ninth result-earning goal Seattle has scored after the 75th minute. Four teams in MLS haven’t scored that many goals all season.

Maybe it’s early, but what other lofty records are the Sounders chasing? They have now won five consecutive games, which ties the franchise record. Seattle has scored 22 goals and earned 22 points through ten games this season. They are on pace for 75 points, that would not only win the Supporter’s Shield, but smash the current points record held by the 1998 LA Galaxy (68 points). If the Sounders keep up their offensive clip of 2.2 goals a game, they’ll finish with 74 goals, second only to those 1998 Gals (who scored a whopping 85!). Can any one beat Seattle? Maybe that vintage Galaxy is the only team that could stop these Sounders.

Real Salt Lake thinks they’re the team to stop the swaggering Seattle heroes. Beating Dallas creates some space atop the Western Conference, but RSL continues to lurk. And they have a streak of their own going, as RSL is without a loss on the season. The MLS marketing department would have gobs invested in a matchup between these two giants: the undefeated squad from the Wasatch and the magical team from the North Cascades. But when Seattle and RSL first face off May 31st, both teams will have players called into USMNT camp. I’ll write a longer post soon about the upcoming World Cup camp and what it means roster-wise and potential schedule wise for your Seattle Sounders.

Last question: Are the Seattle Sounders magical or are they magicaler?

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Seattle Sounders at Chivas USA Recap: Chippiness at a Fever Pitch

At the end of a long road trip, and emotional at-the-death results, the Seattle Sounders faced a final opponent in Chivas USA. Again Seattle fell behind early, but the boys in Rave Green are making a habit of winning late. It wasn’t the best game of soccer, but it was heartening, again, to see the Sounders will a victory.

The game started shaky with Ozzie Alonso giving up a penalty kick in the third minute. I’m interested to see what Simon Borg has to say about that play in his weekly MLS “Instant Replay.” I don’t agree with the call. Leandro Barrera went out of his way to trip on Ozzie’s outstretched legs, but soccer is a game that embraces the postmodern truth of human perception. The ref saw a penalty and awarded it. Goals change games, and the Sounders were down and the first half would’ve been a massive disappointment if not for one brainless Dan Kennedy gaffe. The Chivas keeper totally misplayed a Gonzalo Pineda free kick and Lamar Neagle got a gift of an equalizer.

The Sounders came out flat again after halftime. Chivas outplayed Seattle for the first twenty minutes until the red card. Seattle still didn’t own the game even with the man advantage. It took one moment of soccer brilliance (and salary millions) of Clint Dempsey and Oba to make the difference between one and three points. Seattle can afford that edge; they have the quality and character in 2014.

A win is a win, but we must admit the red card changed the game. Marco Delgado came in hard on Pineda and saw instant red. Did Delagdo deserve red for that isolated play? No. Even as a Sounder homer it seemed overly harsh. But on the total balance of fouls, did Chivas (at 26 fouls) deserve to have a man sent off? Yes. Any team that draws up a game plan of thuggery should not be tolerated. As a result, the match against Chivas wasn’t exactly the beautiful game. I was disappointed in the way we played, but I can’t blame Seattle. Most weeks it seems our opponent wants to play kick and tackle, not soccer. Game 1, Sporting Kansas City sets a new record for fouls against Seattle with twenty-five. Game 2, Toronto FC ties that record. Saturday, Game 7, Chivas USA sets a new record with 26. I rationalized away the first two foul-heavy games. SKC fouling a lot was no surprise, as they play rough and both teams had first game jitters. TFC probably wanted to set a new tone, yadda yadda.  But Chivas?! The Goats are not a traditionally chippy team. Is every team going to just hack-a-Sounder? I fear a disturbing trend is afoot.

Obafemi Martins was especially victimized on Saturday, as he suffered seven fouls alone. In a postgame interview he said he wouldn’t criticize the refs, as they are also just doing their job. The refs’ job should be to steward the beautiful game, not mediate a brawl. You hear complaints about the physicality of MLS, but the problem is getting worse. In five years of league play, the Sounders faced 24 fouls, once. In seven games this season, they’ve been north of that figure three times. If MLS continues to be a league that allows this, how will it grow? What international star will want to play here? Do we want our best prospects developing in a league where injuries are rampant, and thuggish play is tolerated, rampant and rewarded?

Chippiness works in MLS. Think of recent successful teams: 2012 Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes and 2013 MLS Cup winners SKC both utilize and thrive with overly physical play. On the other hand, you have Real Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Galaxy who win and do so with quality. Two roads are diverging in the wood for MLS. The league needs to think long and hard on this, as the road they take will set a legacy.

Sound Bites:

It was great to see Mauro again. That man sure can do things on the ball. That free kick at goal had dangerous movement. The Sounders did a fine job taking his influence out of the game, but you cannot deny his sublime quality. That man is 100% Hustle and Flair.

I was nervous seeing 253 in the right midfield. The man is so Swiss Army (a la Brad Evans), but has always been on the left (and usually less effective at mid). I was nervous of his positioning, especially after his poor showing at Dallas, but he came through and was at the right place at the right time.

Gonzalo Pineda is a consummate professional. Pardon me while I nerd out, but he gave me some Twitter love:

Lastly, check this page out.

Montreal Impact Preview and the Curious Case of Clint Dempsey

*Update: Dempsey has formally been suspended for two games for “violent conduct.” No other player from last Saturday’s TFC-Sounders game received retroactive discipline.*

Saturday the Sounders continue their Tour of the Eastern Conference (the lesser conference) against Montreal. Montreal is not a good team. Granted we’ve never beaten them (0-2-0), but that’s a short history. Montreal’s backline is decimated by injuries and 2013 leading scorer Marco Di Vaio is still serving a suspension for being downright nasty in the Impact-Dynamo playoff tie.

We have problems of our own though. With no Dempsey (he didn’t travel, but no formal suspension has yet been announced), and maybe no Evans and Marshall, our eleven might look… creative. Sigi said Pineda can’t go more than 60, so maybe we’ll see Andy Rose. Whoever makes the eighteen, I want it to be enough to earn more than a point. I want to win in snowy Arcadia.

My focus for this match is Obafemi Martins. Without Dempsey, I want Oba really involved. I love Obafemi Martins. I was stoked when we signed him. Robbie Keane flipped the script in 2011 when he joined Los Angeles. Every team wanted to go get a Keane. Joe and Adrian got Oba. The man is too good. Oba is the type of player who makes the difference between Open Cups and MLS Cups.

How long will Oba be a Sounder?  I don’t know what drives the man. He has a fascinating sense of interior design and a passion for guns, but he has jumped from team to team. He was certainly eying Turkey this offseason and that bothers me. I don’t want him to unplug or transfer. He works hard and seems to have fun playing in Seattle. I just want to see that translate to goals and stats because I want to keep him here and happy.

We need Oba more involved. In the final third, he’s resorted to waiting for service. But crosses from the flank aren’t going to find his noggin atop that 5’7’’ frame. When he isn’t getting service, too often he drops into the midfield and takes himself out of the play. We need him plugged in more to the run of play. Oba and Dempsey had some fine, fancy interchanges against Toronto. I was really excited he got the assist on Deuce’s goal. It was great to watch them celebrate together. Shockingly, they have now played more minutes together in two games this season than all of last season combined. Of course, that partnership will be on hold for the foreseeable future because…

Clint Dempsey is not-yet-announced-but-probably-because-he-didn’t-travel-with-the-team  suspended. The nut hit, the kick outs, his general brattiness. The Soundersphere is very worked up about this, with some folks rampantly defending Dempsey and others condemning his antics.

The logic being, we don’t pay Dempsey millions, as the face of the franchise, to be a brat. He needs to sell the wholesome and superlative image of “The American Soccer Player.” Thing is… Dempsey don’t play that. Yes, he has a lot of sizzle in his game, but he is a scrapper, a fighter and a chip-on-his-shoulder-holder par excellence. He has a lot of gristle in his game. Some great players play happy, others lazy or driven, Dempsey plays angry. The man is plain pissed out there. He wants to backhand the world.

Considering the blockbuster salary and media reception he received, does he need to be part athlete/part ambassador? Sounders FC Inc. expects that, I’m sure. But everyone who stands in the rain boomboom-clapping just wants goals scored, with a reasonable amount of tact and class. No one wants to cheer for douchebags (which is why I am surprised there are so many Timbers fans), but I don’t want to cheer for the church choir either.

I want to see grit and hustle and heart. I want to see give a shit. Dempsey clearly gives a shit. Which is a relief. One of the many concerns when he returned to MLS was whether he’d lose his famous edge. Dempsey’s edge is still razor sharp, and people are getting tetchy about it.

I am not going to defend his actions, but I do think the context shouldn’t be ignored. Dempsey takes a lot of punishment. The man was fouled six times Saturday (called fouls, there were others). Six fouls suffered by one player is the second most in the league since Dempsey joined last season. He is the most fouled player in MLS.

Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of the USMNT, wants his captain protected, and expressed concern over Dempsey’s treatment in MLS. On one hand Klinsmann is a soccer lifer, stud player and accomplished coach, he knows how the game should be played. He also has a cynical interest in protecting his players. There is a spectrum of truths here, from Deuce being a thug to Deuce getting thugged. MLS needs to do something. 

I am not advocating MLS go all NBA and put force fields around the stars. I hated watching Michael Jordan get away with everything (and, yes, Bryon Russell that was a push off). I do want a beautiful game of soccer however. To achieve that, MLS must better protect all their players equally, from Dempsey to Mark Bloom.

Yes nut hits are bad. But fifty fouls suffered by one team in two weeks?! Dempsey’s suspension reinforces the unpleasant truth that MLS’s style of play is part soccer/part football. It is one thing for the refs (replacement refs at that), to let an overly chippy game develop on the pitch. But with days to parse the action, the league bureaucracy chose to cement MLS’s goon ethos by not retroactively disciplining Jackson or Alvary Rey? Teams like Seattle which try to play soccer (Defoe was fouled exactly once), not kick and tackle, make life much harder on themselves. MLS encourages teams to play like San Jose or SKC.

Until Don Garber realizes that the goon image of the league stunts its international growth, the Sounders will continue to get fouled. Until Dempsey starts popping Paxil, he will continue to get pissed and react. Maybe Sigi needs to scrap his tactics and rebrand the team the Brougham Way Bullies, sign some enforcers to protect Deuce and Oba and let’er rip.

 

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