A funny thing happened to Obafemi Martins at his first day of training with Sounders FC in March.
From the day he was first rumored to be coming to Seattle, he started hearing from a long-lost friend, separated by a chasm of years and miles after his friend sought asylum in America. When he pulled his car into the lot at Starfire, Martins was greeted with a hug that was years in the making.
Just how Machael David ended up in Seattle and was there at Starfire on that day is a long tale of brotherly love that started when David was much younger.
While Martins was playing with Inter Milan in Italy, a group of 10 young African players came to a nearby lower-division club to trial with Reggiana. Unlike a similar journey that Martins had taken just a few years earlier, this one lacked any merit. David and the rest of the players were swindled by an agent looking to take advantage of young dreamers hoping of one day playing professionally in Europe. There was never a trial though, and the bogus agent ran off with the money the teenaged kids had given him to make the trip to Italy.
For nearly a year, David, who was just 14 years old at the time, roamed the streets of Milan, sleeping in train stations when there was room and in parks when there wasn’t.
Without a place to stay or an opportunity to be had, Martins took them in to his home and quickly drew a bond with David. He lived there for two years under the care of Martins, who was starring for Inter Milan.
So what drove Martins to help David? Why put so much faith in someone he had barely met?
“Why not?” Martins shrugged. “He’s a good kid. I love him, so that’s why I helped him.”
Knowing that he couldn’t stay in Italy and a return to Africa would leave him in even worse condition than when he started, David made a blind attempt at asylum in America. Only knowing a few words of English and funded entirely by Martins, David flew into New York where he was moved into a foster program that landed him with a host family in Tacoma.
After one year at Lincoln High School, David moved on to Gig Harbor High School. There, he was offered an opportunity at a professional contract, but reluctantly turned it down. Not because he didn’t love soccer or appreciate the opportunity, but because he came to America for another reason – bettering his life through education.
So he went to the University of California at Santa Barbara, playing for the Gauchos through an injury-riddled college career. After he was drafted by the Colorado Rapids in the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft and didn’t make the team, he returned to Gig Harbor. That is when news came that Martins was coming to Seattle.
The two reconnected over the phone and when Martins came to Starfire for his first day of training, David was the first to greet him in the parking lot.
“I didn’t know his house was so close to Starfire. The first day I came to training, I just saw Machael,” Martins said. “It was like a miracle. I hadn’t seen him for six or seven years. I was so glad I helped him. Seeing that he was good and he’s happy … I’m proud of that.”
That feeling was mutual.
“He trusted me. He took care of me. He was a blessing,” David said. “When I saw him, it was the happiest day of my life.”
While soccer didn’t end up being his ultimate destination, it was the vehicle by which David was able to reach a much greater goal.
Through the game he loves, he was able to play collegiately at the UCSB, and work toward his degree. There he got the educational background to pursue his latest dream – reuniting immigrants with their families through a documentary project that he has begun.
“America is a great country – a generous country. I want to show the world a different side to America and what America has given to people,” David said.
In the documentary, David will take immigrants back to visit their families, showing where they came from and also what they have become because of that side of America.
Part of that is going back to see his own family, using his story to launch the project, going back to Nigeria to see his mother for the first time in eight years.
When he makes that visit, he will have with him years of stories to tell, of loving moments to share again with his family and of gratitude for his brother, Obafemi Martins.