If you ever find yourself at a Seattle Sounders training session one thing is almost certain to stand out: the play of Obafemi Martins.
While this might not be particularly shocking, as he's hardly a slouch when he's in actual games, you can really get an appreciation for how talented he is when you can watch him at field level. His quickness is remarkable. His touch seems unreal. He has an uncanny ability to find shooting angles where none seemingly exist. It's no wonder that many people believe he's the most talented forward in MLS.
That Martins has the potential to be one of the most productive players in MLS has never really been a question. When healthy, that's exactly what he was during his first season with the Sounders. During one eight-match stretch that included two appearances as a substitute, Martins scored six goals and looked almost unstoppable. He was getting behind defenses that played too high of a line, working himself into dangerous spots on set pieces and showing an impressive knack for making something from nothing.
This was Martins just getting warmed up, it seemed.
We all know how it went from there, though. Injuries started to cost him time shortly after Clint Dempsey joined the club and he was never really the same after that. Martins eventually played in just six of the Sounders' final 16 matches, and only made one start in October and November.
The major reason for his decline was that his work load simply caught to him, the Sounders said. Martins had been playing virtually nonstop for 11 months when injuries first started to be a significant issue. Over that period, he made about 49 appearances for club and country. It was a heavy load, to be sure.
But there was also an inescapable sense that he wasn't happy. Martins never came out and said anything to suggest that, but there were near constant rumblings that he was either upset at how much more money Dempsey was making and/or wasn't willing to give up on the idea of playing in Europe. That he was constantly being linked to various transfer rumors during the offseason did nothing to change that perception.
Yet here he is, still wearing Rave Green and all signs pointing to him staying put for the foreseeable future. Maybe he saw that the grass wasn't necessarily as green on the other side of the pond as he thought it would be. Maybe he just didn't know what to do with himself if he wasn't at least looking for another gig. Whatever the reason, he seems well rested and ready to go now.
What's better than him simply being here is how good he's looked in training sessions and scrimmages. Almost without fail, he figures out a way to find the back of the net more than anyone else on the pitch, whether it's in a short-sided game or full-blown 11 v. 11.
Despite heavily accented English and a clipped vocabulary likely born from years of not wanting to give the tabloids any fodder, Martins has always been pretty good with the media. In the couple times I've talked to him this offseason, he's given every indication that he's happy to be here and looking forward to a season that has a much more satisfying end than the previous one. He seems comfortable, always leaving the training ground chatting with teammates and often wearing a smile during the sessions.
When asked about his teammates, he's not hesitated to heap praise upon them. Most recently, he even went as far as to liken Kenny Cooper's style to that of Italian great Christian Vieri.
It's obviously way too early to know if Martins will actually fulfill the potential we all saw when he first arrived, but it's at least safe to say he's now better positioned to do so.