Early Friday morning, Obafemi Martins boarded a plane in Madrid, Spain, with a long 48 hours ahead of him. Over 5,500 air miles later, he would land in Seattle on Friday evening and 24 hours later, he would make his debut for the Sounders FC in front of 40,150 fans at CenturyLink Field on Saturday against the Portland Timbers.
After 20 minutes on the field in the 1-1 draw, he turned back around early Sunday morning and boarded a flight that at the end of the day had him in Nigeria to play in a World Cup qualifying match against Kenya next Saturday.
The arrangement may not have been ideal for Martins and the Sounders in the short-term, but the long-term effects of his appearance have already started to take hold.
“I thought it was better to come now and see the place,” Martins said, noting that Sounders owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer wanted him to go straight from Spain to Nigeria. “I decided to come straight to see the team and play as soon as possible.”
The effort wasn’t lost on his coaches or his teammates.
Head coach Sigi Schmid knew that Martins wouldn’t be at his best if he played, but the 28-year-old striker’s desire to play with his new club, Schmid also knew, would speak volumes to his teammates.
“We wanted to give him the opportunity, he wanted the opportunity, as well,” Schmid said. “His mind, his spirit, his soul is here and he wants us to succeed and be successful.”
When Martins approached midfield to enter the match, a buzz built within the stadium until the announcement was made that he would enter the match for Mario Martinez in the 70th minute. At that point, the crowd erupted at the arrival of the newest star for the Sounders.
“They are good fans and really supportive,” Martins said. “I’m glad that I played today.”
Martins will miss Seattle’s first road match of the year next week when he plays for Nigeria against Kenya, but is expected to return for the match on March 30 against Real Salt Lake.
Martins has 18 goals in 38 appearances for Nigeria. The match with Kenya on Saturday is the third for Nigeria in the group stage of World Cup qualifying. They currently lead the group, which also includes Namibia and Malawi, at 1-0-1. The remaining group stage matches will be June 7, June 14 and September 6. The winner of each of the 10 groups will be seeded in a knockout round, with the winner of each two-leg series qualifying for the World Cup.
It’s not likely to be the only time Martins misses matches for international duty, either. Nigeria is also slated to play in the Confederations Cup beginning June 17 in Brazil. While it may be difficult to adapt to his new club if he misses too many matches, Schmid is confident that he can make a tremendous impact for the Sounders.
“He hasn’t trained with the team. He doesn’t know the team, per se,” Schmid said. “He’ll get better, and the things that he can do—his quickness and things like that—will show through.”