Good news, bad news with Seattle’s ever-closer Obafemi Martins signing

8 Comments

Here’s the good news about Obafemi Martins, if you’re a Seattle Sounder fan:

The move is almost done. Reportedly, the sides have agreed to terms on a contract that will pay the former Nigerian international $2.5 million per season. Bonuses can take up to $3.5 million. It’s a huge commitment from Seattle at a time when fans were starting to wonder if the gate receipts would translate into an expanded payroll. If the numbers prove true, only three players (Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Robbie Keane) would make more than Martins. Whether that salary’s justified or not, that’s a whole new level of commitment.

This guy will also be a great fit with Eddie Johnson. Short, quick, with the ability to burst onto a ball, the 28-year-old is a good complement for somebody whose physicality demands so much attention. You can already see Martins surging onto balls Johnson’s elevated to win. When Johnson pushes the defense in the attacking phase, Martins will be free to poach or exploit space along the line. All the things Martins lacks — size, physicality, and (often) intensity — Johnson can provide, and with the skill in Seattle’s midfield (especially the wide-to-in contributions of Mauro Rosales), Sigi Schmid won’t have to worry if Martins’ ability to link play falls short of Fredy Montero’s.

As far as goals, the tandem could be potent. Both players have Golden Boot-level talent. Their individual threats will prevent opposing defenses from focusing on one man. With two of the league’s top scoring in the same XI, all of Seattle’s potential scoring problems disappear.

Martins can be a game-changing acquisition. If he clicks, he’ll be an All-Star, threaten Seattle’s club record for goals, and help give the Sounders their best chance to win MLS Cup.

But just like any other purchase, there’s an element of risk here. Martins’ acquisition carries more than most.

Martins will leave Levante on a bad note, publicly deriding his club as he’s sprinted for the door. It’s an approach that only reinforces the impressions the attacker’s left while leaving five clubs since 2006 (Levante would be the sixth). A once promising player for Inter Milan, Martins’ professional existence has become defined by transience. The Nigerian has played in England, Germany, Russia, and Spain since 2009.

That club uncertainty hasn’t helped Martins’ place for his national team. When Stephen Keshi remade the Nigerian national team, electing not to call in a series of veterans who had come to symbolize the Super Eagles’ malaise, Martins’ international career was put on hold. Despite 18 goals in 38 international appearances, Martins was deemed surplus to Keshi’s requirements.

He wasn’t the only one. Yakubu Ayegbeni, Peter Odemwingie and Taye Taiwo were also left out. Despite the exclusion of four players who have combined for 203 international appearances, Keshi’s more selective Nigeria went on to claim their first Cup of Nations since 1994.

A less nebulous concern may be Martins’ actual production. It’s been over five years since Martins posted double-digit goals in a league season. Between stops at Newcastle, Wolfsburg, Rubin Kazan, Birmingham City and Levante, Martins has put up one goal every 3.2 games.

And if you’re a Seattle fan, you can’t help but remember what happened with Blaise Nkufo. Christian Tiffert is still on the payroll, for now (he’ll have to be bought out to make room for Martins). Even with a past free of controversy, a player might not adjust to a move across the world. Like any other player, Martins could fail to make the adjustment.

With Seattle Sporting Director Chris Henderson said to be in Spain finalizing the deal, Martins looks likely to come. For the organization, it’s a huge commitment for a player that has the talent to make Seattle’s attack the most dangerous in Major League Soccer. Maybe Martins represents a bigger gamble than other organizations might like, but for a team that’s committed to taking the next step — to going beyond last year’s conference final appearance — he could also be the missing piece.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

AP Photo/Bryan Woolston
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

AP Photo/Armando Franca
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia