Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Armchair Analyst: With Obafemi Martins gone, how do Seattle Sounders change?

Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, and Nelson Valdez celebrate Valdez's goal, October 29, 2015


The Seattle Sounders made it officially official, following weeks of Chinese media tweeting pictures of Obafemi Martins in Shanghai and Oba himself tweeting out heartfelt goodbyes to the fans, the Nigerian international has played his last game in Rave Green. That particular era is done.

Last week I wrote about what that means from a league perspective -- how the free-spending ways of the CSL don't really affect MLS's long-term future.

Today I'm writing about what it means for the Sounders to lose the guy who is, I think, their best player, and arguably the league's best player.

Have a taste:

Oh God that is filthy and obscene. I've probably watched that first touch 50 times and will watch it at least that many more before I've shuffled off this mortal coil.

Martins was masterful at making something out of nothing. That was a hopeless long ball that turned into one of the best goals of last year, and secured a Sounders win the process. It's not easy to replicate that.

But … that sort of stuff was the dessert. The main course with Oba was his ability to combine with Clint Dempsey and combine on the run in ways that can't be taught and nobody else in the league can do. Martins is a spectacular soloist, but Martins and Dempsey combined were nearly undefendable.

I remember rocking back and forth, giggling like a lunatic when Seattle opened 2015 with this gem:

That is artistry and viciousness and unselfishness and it is everything we mean when we call our sport "The Beautiful Game."

Losing Martins hurts. Losing the ObaDeuce combo -- the key to a 2014 season that ended with a Supporters' Shield/US Open Cup double, and a 2015 season that started with so much promise before suspensions and injuries piled up -- means a drastic reconfiguration of how the Sounders will have to score goals.

The good news is they've already planned for that, shifting from the 4-4-2 "amoeba," as Sigi Schmid once called it, to a 4-3-3. And in Nelson Valdez they have a less spectacular No. 9 (Valdez has played all over the attack in his career, but to me he's always looked most at home as a target forward) to fill Oba's old shoes, while Andreas Ivanschitz should provide a dose of midfield creativity in the way that Mauro Rosales did in his Seattle heyday.

It should work, especially with Jordan Morris adding a speed element on the right wing. But the key is for Dempsey and Valdez to strike up something approximating the type of partnership that Dempsey and Martins had. They don't need to undress teams going 2-vs-6, as ObaDeuce did so often in 2014, but they do need to figure out a way to play off of each other and make each other better.

The early returns look pretty good. Seattle played Club America dead even in the first leg of their CCL series on Tuesday, and last week Seattle smashed the Galaxy 4-0 in a friendly. Here's what the first goal of the onslaught looked like:

Seems familiar, right? That's the No. 9 (Valdez) pulling off the front line and slipping a neat little pass through traffic to Dempsey, who draws the defense in then lays off for the onrushing Ivanschitz. About the only thing different from last year is that a Sounders midfielder actually scored a goal.

That was one of two on the evening for Ivanschitz, who also had an assist. Dempsey, meanwhile, had a goal and an assist, and both both Valdez and Morris had a pair of assists. Dempsey went on to score twice against America, and the rest of the attack looked functional and inventive, if not quite as cohesive as they have been at times in the past.

It's still early, but that's how it's supposed to look. It won't work every time out, of course, yet even after losing their best player the Sounders still know who they are.

A new era has arrived in Seattle. And I very much suspect the Sounders will be just fine.