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

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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.

MLS: NYCFC beat TFC in new coach Torrent’s debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.

Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.

NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.

Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.

NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.

Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — Time to settle Groups A & B

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Day 12 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Monday, and with it begins the final round of group games to decide the 16 teams headed to the knockout rounds. For the next four days, we’ll be treated to four games each day.

Also, the end of 8 a.m. ET kickoffs. Hooray for sleeping in.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

First up, the conclusion of Group A, where both the hosts, Russia, and Uruguay have already advanced with wins in their first two games. Now, the two meet in the southwestern city of Samara to determine who’ll go through to the round of 16 as the group winners, and who’ll be the runners-up. Most likely awaiting either of them will be Spain and Portugal, pending the order in which they finish in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Speaking of Group B, Spain will finish group play against fourth-place and points-less Morocco, while Portugal have a tricky meeting with third-place Iran, who sit just a point behind the reigning European champions. The winner of Group B will face the runners-up of Group A, and vice versa.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 25

Group A
Uruguay vs. Russia: Samara, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt: Volgograd, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Spain vs. Morocco: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Portugal: Saransk, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Transfer rumor roundup: Emery raiding Sevilla; Wilshere’s suitor(s)

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Unai Emery has reportedly been in contact with at least one former player, Ever Banega, in an attempt to convince the Argentine midfielder to join him at Arsenal.

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Banega, who’ll turn 30 on Friday, played two seasons under Emery at Sevilla — where they won back-to-back Europa League titles (Banega was only at the club for the second and third of three straight from 2013-2016).

With Banega reportedly on the fence about whether or not to leave Sevilla again — he only just returned last summer after one season at Inter Milan — Emery is said to have made a personal call after Arsenal’s bid of roughly $23 million triggered the release clause in Banega’s contract. Sevilla will join Arsenal in the Europa League next season after finishing seventh in La Liga.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Jack Wilshere announced last week that he will leave Arsenal this summer — thus opening up the handful of games for which he was healthy and fit to play each season, perhaps for Banega — which leads us nicely to the final bit of transfer talk for Sunday: West Ham are interested in the 26-year-old, but are reportedly only willing to offer him a one-year contract.

The Hammers’ hesitancy is, of course, a response to his years-long battle with injuries — he’s made just 66 appearances over the last four PL seasons (three with Arsenal, one on loan to Bournemouth).

Two other clubs to keep an eye on, as they’ve reportedly indicated interest in Wilshere and/or been in contact already: Everton and Juventus.

Durmaz condemns Sweden fans’ racist abuse after World Cup loss

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KRASNODAR, Russia (AP) — Sweden midfielder Jimmy Durmaz says the racist abuse aimed at him over social media following the 2-1 loss to Germany at the World Cup has been “completely unacceptable.”

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

After coming on as a substitute, Durmaz gave away the free kick that led to Toni Kroos curling in an injury-time winner in Saturday’s group game. Durmaz has since been subjected to online abuse, including threats to his family.

Before a training session on Sunday, Durmaz — standing in front of the rest of the Sweden squad and beside coach Janne Andersson — read out a statement to the media from a mobile phone.

“When you threaten me, when you call me ‘Arab devil,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘Taliban,’ then you have gone far beyond the limit,” Durmaz said in the statement, which was published on the Swedish Football Association’s website.

“And even worse, when you go after my family, my children, threaten them. Who does such a thing? It is completely unacceptable.”

Durmaz was born in Sweden to Assyrian parents who emigrated from Turkey.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I am Swedish and I am proud to play in the Swedish national team. That’s the biggest thing you can do as a football player,” he said in the statement. “I will never let any racists destroy that pride. We must all stand against all forms of racism.”

The Swedish FA has reported the abuse toward Durmaz to police.

“We do not tolerate a player being exposed to threats and violations,” said Hakan Sjostrand, secretary general of the Swedish FA. “It is unpleasant and very upsetting to see the treatment that Jimmy Durmaz has suffered. Completely unacceptable.”

The loss to Germany left Sweden tied on three points with its opponent. Both countries are three points behind Mexico with one game left. Sweden plays Mexico in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday, with Germany taking on South Korea at the same time.