Sounders blaze new trail in acquiring Obafemi Martins

Jane G Photography

Seattle Sounders FC did something MLS clubs do not do - acquired a player that a team from a major European league did not want them to get.

When Seattle finally officially announced that Obafemi Martins would be joining the team, and in just a few hours with an airport media scrum, it ended a long saga. Over a period of many months, the Sounders pursued a deal with Levante and the player. In the end things were certainly not amicable, as Levante did everything they could to stop or at least delay losing the Nigerian national teamer.

Martins would come onto the field as the second sub in the draw to Portland on Saturday to a large roar from the crowd. Eddie Johnson after the match said that noise was "the loudest it's ever been at the Clink." The long, drawn out negotiations and maneuvers made it clear that nearly everyone knows something is happening with the player being pursued.

The process may have also overshadowed the significance of the move.

A potent forward playing in a league currently ranked first in UEFA (and almost certainly the world) was with a team saying "He's ours and you can't have him." Except that there was a legal method to get him any way and the player exercised it.

He chose Seattle Sounders FC and MLS. There are a number of reasons for that, but a large part of it was the pitch and push from Adrian Hanauer, Chris Henderson and the rest of the talent evaluation staff. They found their target -- one of many, but one of the primary ones -- and locked onto it.

That target came, despite all the urging of his local fans in Valencia, despite possibilities of a new team in Europa or Champions League wanting him later after a full season. Martins is a classic mercenary, jumping around for all kinds of reasons. After two substantial stays with Inter and Newcastle and this exit on bad terms, there are reasons to question the deal. There are reasons to question any Designated Player deal. Saturday there was a glimpse of how good Obafemi can be with his no-lane-but-do-it-anyway, threading-of-the-needle pass that nearly hit Johnson for the winner.

Even if Obafemi's MLS production is merely at the level he did with Levante, he could easily be a double-digit goal scorer. It would be just outside or just within the top 10 scorers in recent MLS seasons. If he makes a Robbie Keane-like adjustment, he will meet the stated target of Sounders FC's most senior leadership.

He approaches Keane in the level of fee paid and in the rumored contract amount as well. That is the benchmark. There's a notable difference, though.

How he came to Seattle. This is new ground for MLS. They were not the team and league pushed around by the big boys. They did the pushing. There was no waiting until Summer because it suited a historically great club. The Sounders wanted Obafemi Martins now and they got him now. They didn't get pushy with a Latin American club. They got pushy in La Liga.

Whether this is truly a new trail that other MLS 'haves' are going to follow will be seen in the coming years. For now, it is a trail forged by Sounders FC as they look to continue to do things that other North American sides can not.

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