By FRANCO PANIZO
CHESTER, Pa. — Obafemi Martins had a strain. Clint Dempsey had an early missed opportunity.
Neither of those things prevented the dynamic duo from making a significant impact.
The Seattle Sounders emerged victorious from a hard-fought U.S. Open Cup final with the Philadelphia Union on Tuesday night, but it was Dempsey and Martins who helped make the difference in extra time. Both of the veteran forwards found the back of the net against a motivated Union side that was pushed on by its electric crowd at PPL Park, and they were constantly posing a threat by combining well with one another after Martins’ insertion into the match at the hour-mark.
Truth be told, it looked like Dempsey and Martins had been playing together for the better part of the decade with the way they moved off one another and connected passes. It was a real treat for neutrals to watch, and the two Designated Players ultimately scored the goals that had the Sounders celebrating with their contingent of well-traveled fans after 120 evenly-played minutes.
“They just find each other, they know where each other are on the field all the time,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. “When Clint has the ball, he knows where Oba is and when Oba has the ball, he knows where Clint is, and they just find each other.
“It’s the same thing at practice. We always play them together, when we play 6-v-6, 8-v-8, it doesn’t matter. We always put them on the team together, so they’ve just developed a really good relationship with each other and they trust each other. They trust that if they make the run for each other, the guy’s going to get them the ball.”
That was exactly the case in the 101st minute on a counterattack that saw the Sounders take a lead they would not relinquish. Dempsey played a pass forward into space for the strong and speedy Martins, who incredibly drew the attention of three Union defenders.
Dempsey read that situation well and made a run into vacant space before Martins slipped a well-weighted pass back to the U.S. Men’s National Team forward. Philadelphia’s defenders tried to scramble to stop Dempsey’s left-footed shot, but it was already too late for them to react.
Back of the net. Go-ahead goal.
“It’s almost like watching FIFA, watching them play,” said DeAndre Yedlin, referring to EA Sports’ popular soccer game. “That’s what I say to Chad Marshall. I say, ‘Oba’s a video game.’ It’s almost impossible to stop him, especially when he’s on his game. He’s such a valuable player to us and so is Clint. We’re very fortunate to have those two up top for us.”
A Martins injury that Schmid only described as “a strain” prevented the two forwards from starting alongside one another from the start on Tuesday, but the Seattle head coach asked his Nigerian striker at halftime how he was feeling and if he could give them 30 minutes or so.
Whether it was his competitive nature kicking in as he witnessed from the bench how hard his teammates fought for the title or the fact that he was indeed feeling better, Martins told Schmid he could play. The 29-year-old difference-maker entered the game by replacing Chad Barrett, who scored the equalizer two minutes into the second half, and immediately added another dimension to Seattle’s attack.
“Tonight we were fortunate enough to bring Oba off the bench and being able to wear a team down, obviously, with his explosiveness,” said Sounders captain Brad Evans.
Dempsey looked even more dangerous in the attacking third after Martins’ insertion. The 31-year-old forward was involved in many of his teams attacks – including on an early chance from in close that he admittedly should’ve have put on frame rather than into the stands – and he kept knocking on the door until he finally broke it open with his well-taken game-winner.
The Union frantically threw numbers forward in search of an equalizer, but Dempsey and Martins threatened on a number of counterattacks before the latter assured that it would be the Sounders that hoisted the Open Cup trophy with a strong run and delicately lobbed finish.
Martins’ insurance goal punctuated another strong showing from the formidable tandem that has been on an absolute tear in recent months, and continued to make the case that they are the best forward partnership in MLS right now.
“When he plays with Clint, it provides something that I don’t think any other team has other than maybe when (Landon) Donovan and (Robbie) Keane are playing at their best,” said Evans. “Maybe then, but otherwise, probably the best combo in MLS.”