PORTLAND, Ore. — When the Seattle Sounders spent lavishly to bring in Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins last year, it was with the stated purpose of acquiring big players who could step up in big games.
Against the Portland Timbers on Saturday, the Sounders got just that.
Dempsey scored a hat trick — the fifth in club history — and Martins had a pair of assists, as the Sounders erased a late two-goal deficit to escape with a 4-4 tie at Providence Park.
“Talking to Oba, we know we have to play well in order for this team to do well,” Dempsey told reporters after the match. “It’s important to combine well and get that parternship, that relationship, that understanding of where each other is on the field. That’s building.”
The two attacking players have never looked more comfortable together than they did against the Timbers. Martins picked up assists on Dempsey’s first two goals and nearly set him up for a third. Dempsey nearly found Martins on a couple occasions as well, and they combined well throughout the match.
“It’s what we do even in training,” said Martins, whose four assists already match his total from a year ago. “We love playing each other, trying to connect, trying to play well because that’s the chance we have up front.
“This is just the beginning. I hope we’ll play well and play a lot of games together.”
Coming into this season, Martins and Dempsey had only played together in a couple matches, and never a full 90 minutes together. With Dempsey missing all of preseason training camp, they only started working together a few days before the start of the regular season.
They seem to be making up for lost time quite nicely.
Martins set up Dempsey on his first goal, a first-half equalizer. The Nigerian international got the ball in space, drew a couple defenders and then slipped the ball to the US national team captain, who was completely unmarked on the left side. Dempsey coolly finished the chance inside the far post.
After Seattle had fallen behind again — this time by two goals — Martins set up Dempsey on the goal that would ultimately turn the match around. Lamar Neagle, who entered as a second-half substitute, sent in a cross that Martins was able to flick to Dempsey at the far post. Dempsey was able to slide it past Andrew Weber in the 85th minute.
Dempsey finished off his hat trick with an 87th-minute penalty, which he seemed determined to take after Gonzalo Pineda initially claimed it.
“He was feeling confident to take it, I was feeling confident to take it,” Dempsey explained. “Scoring two goals in the game, I was feeling like I was in a little bit of a rhythm. Credit to him for letting me go with that rhythm and build on my confidence and to get that hat trick. Maybe after the game, I’ll get him that soda pop.”
That kind of confidence was a major reason the Sounders wanted Dempsey. With four goals in three games, he appears to have that in spades.
“That point today felt like more than a point, it almost felt like a win,” Dempsey said. “It’s a momentum-builder going into next week.”