By JASON MITCHELL
For the second time this season, injury is sidelining Obafemi Martins longer than initially expected.
Martins picked up an ankle injury in the first half against Toronto FC on Aug. 10 that forced him to leave the match after 30 minutes. The team initially characterized the injury as “day-to-day,” but Martins has now missed two matches and was scheduled to undergo a precautionary MRI on Wednesday.
“We’ll see,” said head coach Sigi Schmid when asked Wednesday about Martins’ status for this weekend’s match at Columbus. “He did more today at practice. I thought his movement was better today at practice. This afternoon we’re going to MRI the ankle just to make sure, but overall I think he’s coming along. Not maybe as fast as we would have liked at this stage, but definitely I thought there was some improvement today.”
Martins, 28, injured his knee in mid-March playing for the Nigerian national team. The Sounders thought he could play through that injury, but the Designated Player struggled through an hour against Real Salt Lake on March 30. He wouldn’t play again until April 20, missing a league match and both legs of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.
While he has only started 12 of Seattle’s 23 league matches, Martins has been one of the team’s most productive players when on the pitch, contributing seven goals and three assists in 15 appearances.
With Eddie Johnson, Clint Dempsey, and Brad Evans missing at least two matches down the stretch for U.S. Men’s National Team duty, Schmid knows a healthy Martins is key for Seattle’s playoff push.
“We need him to get healthy,” Schmid said. “We’re going to have some guys missing after the Columbus game, so we need to get him healthy. We have to be smart about it, not throw him into a game too early and have him re-injure himself, because when we’re missing those other guys having Oba’ is going to be extremely important to our team.”
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SOUNDERS LOOKING TO END ROAD WOES
The Sounders are riding a club record 10-match unbeaten streak at home (7-0-3). They dropped the season opener 1-0 to the Montreal Impact the first weekend in March, but haven’t lost in Seattle since.
Road trips haven’t been so fun.
The Sounders started the season a respectable enough 2-2-1 on the road. They have since lost five of seven matches (2-5-0) away from the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field, and the real gore lurks in the details.
Opponents outscored Seattle 12-1 in the five losses. The Los Angeles Galaxy handed them a 4-0 drubbing; Houston topped their Pacific Northwest guests 3-1. Those two road wins? Over bottom feeders Chivas USA and Toronto FC, two teams with nine wins between them. And victory in Canada only came courtesy of a horrendous own goal.
Even after defeating rival Portland, Evans immediately turned his thoughts to the team’s road troubles.
“That’s the next step for us,” he said in the post-game locker room Sunday, “really buckling down and picking up points on the road. Because at the end of the day that’s where we’ve seen our demise: away from home in big games.”
“We wanted to get more home points than we’ve gotten in years past,” Schmid said Wednesday, “and we’re moving towards that goal. Now it’s a matter of us getting at least as many road points as we’ve gotten in the past. So we need to up the ante there. We need to win some games there on the road. Especially [since] when we come home we’re going to be missing some players.”
Seattle will be looking to right the road ship against a vulnerable Columbus Crew team on Saturday night. At 8-12-5, the Crew are seven points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. They will also be missing Designated Player and team captain Federico Higuain, suspended after the team’s 4-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
“We have to take advantage of that if we can,” Schmid said of Higuain’s absence.
If they lose Saturday, at least the Sounders know four of their next five matches are at home.
CROWD WOWS SOUNDERS OLD AND NEW
Large home crowds are nothing new for the Seattle Sounders. For the second straight year the team will average more than 40,000 fans per game. And Sunday’s record crowd, while the largest ever for a Sounders match, actually only drew a few hundred more fans than last season’s match against the Timbers.
That doesn’t mean it gets old, or that the intensity wasn’t different for Dempsey’s home debut.
“Definitely up there on my list,” said starting defender Zach Scott, “of amazing things I’ve gotten to see and do because of soccer.”
“People always ask questions about which games you’ll remember,” added Evans, “and obviously this will be one of them. Probably the most emotional I’ve been before a game, for sure.”
Seeing himself featured on pregame tifo for the first time in his career “almost got the floodworks going,” Evans admitted.
That new guy was pretty impressed, too.
“The crowd was awesome,” Dempsey said. “Anytime you can play in front of 67,000 fans, it’s like a dream come true. When you’re a kid, that’s what you dream about. They were behind us the whole way, and I think them pushing us helped us get that victory, get those three points.”
For Scott, whose days with the Sounders predate MLS expansion by several years, it’s an entirely different world.
“I was happy when we got 3,000 fans, and I thought that was amazing.”
What do you think? Can Martins stay healthy and lead the shorthanded Sounders down the home stretch? Can Seattle finish the season with some solid results on the road?
Share your thoughts below.