Clint Dempsey is arguably the best player in Major League Soccer. Obafemi Martins is one of the few players who can challenge that claim. On virtually any team, playing alongside virtually any teammates, these facts would remain.
But something special happens when they take the field together. Extremely talented players are suddenly transformed into the most dangerous forward tandem in MLS, with each seemingly bringing out the most creative and most dynamic aspects of one another's game.
That combination was reunited on Sunday in front of 64,207 fans as well as a national-tv audience, just hoping to see the kind of soccer they had just finished watching in Brazil. Martins and Dempsey did not disappoint.
Virtually from the moment that Martins took the field in the 51st minute, the Sounders were flying toward the Portland Timbers' goal. On Martins' first touch, he dropped back into the midfield, laid off a pass to Lamar Neagle on the left wing and helped start a dangerous chance that put the Timbers on their back heel. A couple minutes later, Dempsey got his first clear look on goal. A bit after that, Martins nearly got on the end of a ball at the back post.
The chances were coming freely and then Dempsey finally put the Sounders ahead when the Timbers failed to clear their lines after a scramble near the goal mouth. It culminated as dominating a 20-minute stretch as the Sounders have ever enjoyed this season, as they out shot the Timbers 11-1 from the time Martins entered until Dempsey's opening goal. During the 40-odd minutes Martins was on the pitch the Sounders had a 16-4 shots advantage and if not for some stellar goalkeeping from Donovan Ricketts would have won by an even larger margin.
Keep in mind this was with Dempsey and Martins training together for two days after being apart for about two months.
There's no doubt the two players feel a connection.
"It was fun, playing with Oba is like playing pickup, just in terms of we just look for each other," Dempsey said after the match. "We see the game the same. We like to link up and make those passes that create space for each other so that we can create chances for each other to get looks in front of goal. I really enjoy playing with him. He's a great player and he has had a great career and he continues to play well."
Martins didn't stick around to talk to media following the Timbers game, but he's said similar things in the past and really seems to appreciate the way Dempsey will speak up for him in the locker room, telling teammates Martins needs the ball earlier this year.
It's especially refreshing to see the team's top two scorers enjoying one another. You don't need to look very hard to find moments of brightness or for examples of them looking to set one another up. It's plainly obvious, not only from their words by in how they play.
If there's a concern, it has been that they looked for each other almost at the detriment of finding teammates. But that seems to have worked itself out too. Marco Pappa is quickly emerging as the third attacking head of this hydra, playing with a level of creativity that sometimes even exceeds Martins and Dempsey. Lamar Neagle seems to have settled into his role as well, clearly not as creative as the other trio, not as clinical a finisher, but willing to do the scrappy work and get himself into dangerous positions.
Just as importantly, the Sounders have also learned to win without them. It doesn't always look pretty and it's not always smooth, but they are perfectly capable of grinding out results when the situation demands it. East leaders D.C. United found this out as did the San Jose Earthquakes and Timbers in Open Cup play.
But when Martins and Dempsey are both on the field, there's no need to grind; this team takes flight.