TUKWILA, Wash. – The Tuesday announcement that the Seattle Sounders signed Obafemi Martins to a multi-year contract extension could may well be the icing on the cake on what could be an MVP season for the star forward.
“I’m glad I’m still going to be with the team for a long time,” Martins told reporters following Seattle’s Tuesday practice. “I feel at home here so I hope to continue doing well and helping the team.”
It comes as no surprise that the Sounders would want to lock up Martins, who also celebrated his 30th birthday on Tuesday. He set a club record this season with 17 goals and also tallied 13 assists, making him a vital all-around component of a Seattle attack that has emerged as one of the most dangerous in all of MLS.
The Sounders – already Supporters’ Shield and US Open Cup winners – will set their sights on a third trophy when they open their MLS Cup Playoffs on the road Sunday (9 pm ET; ESPN2), and have scored 67 goals in 34 games this season, good for second in the league.
Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said Martins’ standout performance this season was front and center when it came time for the Sounders to begin negotiations to keep the MVP candidate in Seattle.
“We’re very excited,” said Hanauer, who also addressed the media Tuesday at Starfire Soccer Complex. “Oba, obviously, has been fantastic this year, a huge part of the team. We’re happy to extend his deal, and hopefully he ends his career in Seattle. And who knows? Maybe he likes it so much he stays after [the extension is up].”
Martins made the jump to MLS last season after spending his career playing overseas and for Nigeria’s national team. He scored 28 goals with Italian side Inter Milan of Serie A from 2001-06 and added 28 more while playing for Newcastle United of the English Premier League from 2006-09.
He also has 39 caps for Nigeria, scoring 18 goals in his appearances for the Super Eagles, although he was left off the squad for the 2014 World Cup.
Martins told MLSsoccer.com that his experience playing in the US has been an adjustment from living and playing overseas but also said being in a location where he feels happy has helped him elevate his game to this season’s level.
“I enjoyed the time I played in Europe,” Martins said. “But the fact I’m here, I think I’m enjoying my game more. The fact that I’m doing well, scoring goals, I’m glad. I’m happy.”
Martins has also established arguably the league’s most dynamic offensive combination with fellow forward Clint Dempsey, who has 15 goals and 10 assists of his own on the season.
“The pairing with Clint has been massive,” Hanauer said. “Probably the best pairing in MLS, and it helps us win games and championships. I’m not sure there’s much more to it than that.”
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Added Martins: “When Dempsey came last year I had never played with him. It’s been way different. We try to play with each other and help each other out, and that’s what we did this season. It really helps.”
Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid also pointed to the chemistry between Martins and Dempsey as a key factor in his team’s success throughout the course of the season, citing their impressive cumulative goal total – with Martins involved in 30 goals and Dempsey in 25 – as evidence of their value.
“The individual numbers that [Martins and Dempsey] have achieved is just a reflection of the strength of our team,” Schmid said. “… That’s pretty good when you’re involved into close 45 percent of your team’s goals.”
Although he is now considered the odds-on favorite to take home MVP honors, Martins said the award was not necessarily a goal when he first signed with the Sounders.
“The first time I played here the only thing I said is ‘I’m trying to score goals and help the team win trophies,’” Martins said. “I didn’t plan for an MVP.”