The Northwest Passages: The reinvention of Obafemi Martins

Seattle Sounders star Obafemi Martins made his reputation as a goalscorer, but his recent creative tear has been crucial for his side.
Obafemi Martins is a striker. More than that, he's a goalscorer. In top European leagues, he found the net 103 times in 316 games. Playing internationally for Nigeria, his record is even more impressive with 18 goals in 38 games.

But while he's been in excellent form for the Seattle Sounders so far this season, he's not been the man putting the ball in the net. That's been Clint Dempsey, who leads the league with six goals. Instead, Martins has quickly carved out a different niche: provider, creator, the man who sets 'em up so Deuce can knock 'em in.

So far this year, Martins has just scored one goal but provided four assists. Although uncredited statistically, it was his positioning and his first touch that took away two defenders and set up the Dempsey-Chad Barrett-Dempsey move for Seattle's winner against FC Dallas on April 12.

Playing between the halfway line and the penalty area, occasionally favoring the right channel but mostly working through the middle, Martins has more closely resembled a number 10 rather than the nine he bears on his back. He's shot just 10 times in his 531 minutes of play this season; Dempsey has taken double that number in just 303 minutes, and even Lamar Neagle (13 in 416) and Kenny Cooper (12 in 358) have had more attempts on goal with less time played.

When Dempsey speaks of his teammate these days, he doesn't mention the scoring threat Martins brings, he mentions the Nigerian's ability to craft chances for his colleagues.

"We need to do a better job of getting him on the ball," the USA captain said after the Sounders' 4-4 draw with the Portland Timbers, "because he has a lot of skill, a lot of vision and he can create things

"It’s important to get each other on the ball and combine well and to get that partnership, that relationship of understanding where each other are on the field, and that’s building."

It's a mutual feeling.

"We love playing with each other, trying to connect and trying to play well," Martins told the Seattle Times after the Portland match. "This is just the beginning."

And if it is, the rest of the teams in Major League Soccer had better watch out.


Portland - Six games in, and the Timbers are still winless. An early goal at home to Chivas USA was undone by a late Erick Torres strike when the back line fell asleep. The Timbers are now tied for the worst defensive record in the league, having conceded 11 goals.

Coming up: No rest for the weary as the Timbers trek to Utah to play Real Salt Lake. RSL was the one team that seemed to have Portland figured out when the Timbers were flying high, so it could be a struggle. Saturday, April 19, 6:30 p.m. PT, MLS Live.

Seattle -  Clint Dempsey starred again as the Sounders came back from 1-0 and 2-1 down to inflict a first defeat of the season on FC Dallas. The American forward now leads the league with six goals and has twice in a row had multiple-goal games to secure points from losing positions.

Coming up: The Sounders visit Chivas USA as MLS' top-scoring American takes on its top-scoring Mexican player. Erick "Cubo" Torres has five goals so far this season for the Goats. Saturday, April 19 - 7:30 p.m. PT, MLS Live.

Vancouver - The Whitecaps found what happens when you give too much time to Robbie Keane: you give certain Goal USA columnists fantasy points and fall to your second straight loss. After opening their season with an emphatic 4-1 victory over the reigning Supporters' Shield holders, the 'Caps have won just one of their last five.

Coming up: It's the Galaxy again, this time on home turf in British Columbia. Saturday, April 19 - 4 p.m. PT, MLS Live/TSN.