Is it already time for Nigeria to consider a change to its World Cup plans?
One day after national team coach Stephen Keshi left Sounders FC’s Obafemi Martins off his preliminary roster, the dynamic forward was once again at his playmaking best Wednesday, leading Seattle to an electrifying 2-1 comeback win against FC Dallas with two pinpoint assists.
Martins boasts 18 international goals but hasn’t been notably involved with the national team since the 2010 World Cup, so the omission was somewhat expected. His production this season, though, is becoming impossible to overlook.
“The way he is playing,” said coach Sigi Schmid, “(Keshi) might have considered him.”
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Nigeria’s loss. Seattle will be happy to have Martins’ full services throughout the season, particularly with two starters — Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans — on track to represent the U.S. in this summer’s tournament in Brazil.
MLS defenses won’t be happy, though. Martins has a league-leading six assists, two more than anyone else. And when coupled with four goals, he has been directly involved in more scoring plays than all but one player: Dempsey, who has eight goals, three assists.
Carving up the Dallas defense Wednesday just continued what has been a start worthy of an All-Star nomination.
“That’s his unselfish play for the team,” Schmid said of Martins. “He’ll run the channels. He’ll post up when he needs to post up. He’ll drop off and find the ball. He will chase and battle and fight for the ball. He has just been a great teammate this year.”
This year. It was a designation also used by Evans when discussing Martins with ExtraTime Radio.
“Oba is a different player this year,” Evans told the MLSsoccer.com podcast. “He’s hungry. He’s in the gym. He’s involved in the locker room. It’s a different personality this year, and I don’t want to know why. I just know what he’s doing this year is different, and it’s been really fun to watch, first and foremost.”
Evans added he doesn’t want to know why because he doesn’t “want to ruin the mojo. … You just hope that train keeps going.”
So what has been different?
Martins has contended throughout this blistering start, individually and collectively, that he benefitted from getting some time off in the offseason. When he signed as a designated player with Seattle in March of 2013, Martins had already played six months for Spain’s Levante with nine more to go through the MLS playoffs.
Production was solid — eight goals and four assists tied for the team lead in points — but the workload caught up with him. At various points, Martins had injuries to his calf, groin, ankle, knee and leg, and he was not healthy when the team suffered a disappointing playoff exit.
“He eventually broke down physically,” Schmid said. “We knew he could (produce), but it just ended up being too much.”
Being healthy and productive this season seems as good a reason as any to have an improved attitude, not to mention a thriving relationship with Dempsey in the league’s premier attack.
Said Evans: “Both of these guys are just in a different class right now.”
• Lamar Neagle’s goal Wednesday was his 17th for the Sounders, tied for third in franchise with Evans. The two leaders are Fredy Montero (47) and Eddie Johnson (23).
• Defender Leo Gonzalez will travel to New England for Sunday’s road game having not played the past three games recovering from a hamstring injury. He was an unused sub Wednesday (Evans filled in at his left back position), but Schmid said Gonzalez will be available to start against the Revolution.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @joshuamayers.