Sounders FC got one step closer to its full arsenal of prolific attackers on Saturday when Obafemi Martins returned to the starting lineup after missing the previous four matches with an ankle injury.
From the start of the match, he reminded the 38,503 in attendance just how explosive he can be for the Seattle offense, despite being over three weeks removed from regular training time. In the first three minutes of a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire, Martins got into the box three times with dangerous opportunities, setting the tone early for Seattle in the victory.
“It’s good to be back,” he said afterward. “It was very difficult for me because I didn’t train for three weeks. But it’s all good. I just want to play on the team as usual and I’m glad that we won."
His creative play helped put the Chicago defense in disarray and he finished the night with a game-high four shots, forcing goalkeeper Sean Johnson into two saves. It was also his play that sparked Seattle’s first goal, as he deftly averted Jeff Larentowicz and Austin Berry to set up the attack. Defended tightly by the two Fire players near the left sideline at midfield, Martins held them off to keep possession, then quickly shifted the ball out of their reach and turned to cross the ball to Mauro Rosales on the far side, leaving Larentowicz and Berry lagging behind.
Moments later, Chicago was picking the ball out of the back of the net after Lamar Neagle netted the equalizer.
The instant of brilliance was indicative of the night for Martins, as he was a step ahead of the defense for most of the game.
“I thought Oba was really energetic and bright in that first half. You look at the first 10 minutes of the game and he was goal-dangerous three-four times,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “Obviously when he gets back into rhythm with training he’ll feel a little more comfortable with some of those things.”
Martins suffered an ankle injury early in Seattle’s 2-1 win over Toronto FC on August 10 and was replaced at BMO Field by Clint Dempsey. Because of his limited training time, he had lower expectations on himself as he returned to the starting lineup. However, Schmid was happy with his performance and changed the plan to sub him out after around 75 minutes, noting his persistent threat to goal.
“I think he tired a little probably 70 or 75 minutes in, but he’s still dangerous and the other team is still worried about him, so that’s why we left him on,” Schmid said. “It helps our team anytime anybody is able to get opportunities, whether it’s him or Lamar or whomever.”
When Martins made his return on Saturday, Dempsey and Eddie Johnson were both away with the U.S. National Team, so Schmid has yet to have the chance to utilize both Martins and Dempsey on the field together.
Martins has seven goals this season, sharing the team scoring lead with Johnson and Neagle. With that trio of players scoring goals and Mauro Rosales leading the team with seven assists, Dempsey’s addition looks even more enticing as Seattle enters the last eight matches of the season, starting Friday against Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field.