Obafemi Martins has had a pretty good few weeks. He just led the Sounders to their first ever MLS hardware to cap off an MVP-caliber season. Today (on his birthday) he signed a lucrative contract extension to stay with the team. And now there are some indications that his long exile from the Nigerian national team might be coming to an end. Though it may come at an awkward time for the Sounders' playoff run.
When last we checked in just over a month ago, Nigeria head coach Stephen Keshi was explicit that Martins was out of the picture, calling the Sounders' superstar a "former player". Though I don't believe anything has ever been said on the record about it, it seems pretty clear that Keshi had frozen Martins out of the team. There were clearly no issues calling up MLS players, as career MLS bench player Bright Dike was called up to the team ahead of the 2014 World Cup before he was lost to a long-term injury. And to say Martins is a more accomplished attacker than Dike would be a vast understatement.
But two developments have changed the picture substantially. First, the Super Eagles have been a tremendous disappointment in qualification for the 2015 Cup of Nations. Despite entering qualification as the first overall seed, they're currently in third place in their group — 3 points behind minnows The Republic of Congo. And secondly (and relatedly), Keshi was fired two weeks ago.
That's led to a lot of speculation that Martins could be back in the picture for the national team. And if he is, we'll find out soon. Nigeria's final two games in qualifying are on November 15th and 19th against Congo and South Africa.
And while that's great for Martins, who's made it clear he wants to be in the national team picture, it isn't necessarily great for Seattle. Mercifully, MLS is honoring the FIFA international dates during the playoffs this year, meaning that there will be a break during those Nigeria games. But it will still be cutting it close. The 2nd leg in Seattle's first playoff series will be played on November 10th. And if the Sounders advance, the first game of the second round is scheduled for the 23rd. That gives just a few days on either side of the Nigeria matches for travel and rest.
Then again, Martins famously suited up for a game the day after he first arrived in the country as a Sounder. So maybe it wouldn't be a problem at all.