TUKWILA, Wash. – Before the Seattle Sounders lost star striker Obafemi Martins to Shanghai Shenhua of the Chinese Super League, they almost lost another key component of their talented attacking corps in the same fashion.
Nelson Valdez, the Paraguayan international who signed with the Sounders as a Designated Player midway through last season, was reportedly approached by his agent this offseason with an offer from a CSL franchise – an offer he ultimately refused.
“I said I didn’t want to know nothing,” Valdez told the Seattle Times following the report. “I am happy in Seattle so I want to stay and focus in Seattle.”
The Sounders were afforded no such luck when it came to Martins, however.
Seattle officially announced Martins’ transfer to Shanghai on Feb. 25, losing their most consistent offensive threat of the past two seasons in the process. The Nigerian was the MLS MVP runner-up in 2014 and led Seattle with 15 goals last season. Perhaps most importantly, the Sounders were a blistering 28-1-3 in games in which Martins found the back of the net.
The loss could make Valdez’s decision to stay stateside especially pivotal.
The Sounders now turn to Valdez to fill the void as the center forward in their new-look 4-3-3 formation ahead of Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matchup with Mexican juggernaut Club America (8 pm ET, FS2/UDN in US, Sportsnet World in Canada). It’s a transition that Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid says remains a work in progress given the differing skillsets Valdez and Martins bring to the table.
“They’re both quality players but they’re different players,” Schmid said last week. “Oba’s a player who’s got that speed to separate himself up front at times and to get in behind the defense. He’s the kind of guy that wants to dribble, wants to wiggle. Nelson is obviously better in the air. He’s more of a post-up guy.”
Despite Martins’ departure, the Sounders still look to have a more-than-formidable group of forwards – at least on paper. If preseason is any indication, Valdez will be flanked up front by veteran star Clint Dempsey on his left and highly-touted Homegrown newcomer Jordan Morris on his right.
Even so, Schmid said recapturing an on-field dynamic similar to the chemistry between Dempsey and Martins won’t be a simple task. Playing as the lone forwards in Seattle’s traditional 4-4-2 the past two seasons, the Dempsey/Martins tandem emerged as the league’s most-feared and statistically productive duo.
“The difference for us right now is just getting the rhythm and the cohesion together of that whole front three,” Schmid said. “You’ve also got Jordan in there as a new member. I think they [Valdez and Martins] both have different strengths and we’ve just got to make sure we use their strengths.”