By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE – Despite myriad successes for an expansion team, the Seattle Sounders have had decidedly mixed results with bigger name Designated Players. Freddie Ljungberg, Blaise N’Kufo, Alvaro Fernandez, Christian Tiffert. Even Fredy Montero. All were bought out, traded, or loaned away before their contracts expired.
If early results are any indication, Obafemi Martins—Seattle’s biggest signing of all—just might turn all that around. The 28-year-old Nigerian notched a brace Wednesday night to lift the Sounders to a 2-0 win over D.C. United in front of 39,180 at CenturyLink Field.
Martins now has the team lead in goals, with six in just 10 appearances. The Sounders are also 6-0-0 when Martins scores or records an assist.
In the 19th minute, Martins split two D.C. defenders while tracing a perfectly weighted through-ball from Brad Evans to get himself alone behind the United defense. The former Levante striker tracked down the pass at the top of the penalty area before slapping a one-touch, left-footed dart past goalkeeper Joe Willis for all the scoring Seattle would need.
Following a second half full of missed opportunities for the the Sounders (7-5-3), Martins finally iced the match in the 91st minute, powering defender James Riley off the ball in the area and easily beating a helpless Willis from the top of the 6-yard-box.
Martins’ efforts overshadowed a game that was otherwise relatively unattractive.
“I think tonight was one of those games that you have to grind out,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. “I don’t think it was necessarily our best soccer, per se.”
The loss drops D.C. United to 2-13-3, further cementing their place in the Eastern Conference cellar.
“It’s tough to say, but I was pleased with most of the way we played—the way we built up our attack,” said D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen. “But again, the final stuff just isn’t there. The quality just isn’t there. It’s a very frustrating thing because we’re getting the right numbers there, we’re getting in the right situations to get good service…the numbers are there. It’s just not clicking.”
“I don’t think we worked hard enough and I think we may have given them too much respect at the beginning,” said United defender Ethan White. “Once we stepped up and actually made some tackles and we woke up and realized that we were men too then the game changed.”
Chris Pontius had three decent opportunities to equalize in the second half before Martins put the game away, but the UC Santa Barbara product could never solve Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
In the 56th minute, Pontius earned a clean look from 16 yards out, but barely made Gspurning shuffle his feet.
Pontius did much better in the 64th minute, stepping into a loose ball 22 yards out and whipping in a shot that the 6-5 Gspurning barely managed to bat away.
In the 86th minute, with D.C. United finally mounting good pressure, the fifth-year forward got one last look from distance, but Gspurning came up with the stop again, dropping to his left to smother the shot and United’s hopes.
D.C. never really threatened to equalize in a first half featuring fairly limp attacks from each side: a 23-yard shot from Alain Rochat just past the 30-minute mark was the only United attempt even forcing Gspurning to register a save.
Even after a less than beautiful game, some Seattle players are starting to like what they see from their offense.
“The potential is frightening,” said Evans.
Here are the match highlights: