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Remembering the greatness of the Clint Dempsey-Obafemi Martins partnership

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No Dempsey career retrospective feels complete without examining this golden period.

In the wake of Clint Dempsey’s retirement, it’s sometimes tempting to think of his nearly six seasons here as merely something he did toward the end of his career. I think most of us know that isn’t quite right.

In fact, I think it can be argued that we were treated to Dempsey for a good portion of his peak years. He didn’t play as much as we’d have liked, granted, but he was still an exceptionally talented player when he arrived and as recently as last season was still very good.

I think you can even argue that he was never more entertaining than a rather magical period during 2014-15 when he and Obafemi Martins were forming one of the great forward partnerships in MLS history.

The best portion of that time was from March 15, 2014 — the day they first combined on a goal — until June 13, 2015. During that stretch, they played 34 games together and combined for 41 goals and 30 assists. The Sounders claimed 69 points in those games and won the U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield along the way.

It’s obviously a bit of an unfair comparison, but each player effectively posted a 20-goal, 15-assist season — something only Sebastian Giovinco has accomplished in an actual MLS season when he appeared in 33 games — while the Sounders maintained a pace that would be tied for the most ever in a season.

More than the statistics, what defined that era was a sort of interplay that prompted fans to joke that they were “drift compatible.” They always seemed to know what the other would do and when they’d do it. They had a sort of sixth-sense about one another, often doing blind passes or flicks and combining with the sort of beauty rarely seen in MLS. They would end up combining with one another directly on 18 goals, including the overtime winner in the 2014 Open Cup.

Unfortunately, that golden era was relatively short-lived. On June 16, 2015, Obafemi Martins went down with a leg injury that cost him nearly two months. In that same Open Cup game against the Portland Timbers, Dempsey was red carded and ultimately suspended three games for ripping up the referee’s notebook. Compounding the suspension was a four-game absence due to the Gold Cup and then a groin injury that cost him four more games. The Sounders, who were leading the Supporters’ Shield race at the time, lost 9 of 10 and ended up needing to rally themselves just to make the playoffs.

Dempsey and Martins would only end up playing seven more regular-season games together after that and were then eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals. That offseason, Martins forced a transfer to China.

Still their overall numbers together were nothing short of historic. In 45 total games together, they combined for 49 goals and 37 assists. In comparison, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore’s best 34-game stretch together resulted in the partnership scoring 36 goals with 18 assists (2015-16); while Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane’s best 34-game run (2013-14) together resulted in 37 goals and 33 assists. The best current pairing — Atlanta’s Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron — could well prove better, but they’ve “only” got 45 goals and 21 assists in their best 34-game stretch together. Those pairings had more overall games together and I admittedly didn’t run these numbers for every player combination in the league, but there’s at least an argument to be made that the best of Oba and Deuce was the better than the best of any other pairing.

I’m sure most Sounders fans only wish they could have played more together, but in a way the abrupt ending to their partnership helps the legend build.

If you were lucky enough witness the partnership at its best, you know how great it was. At least we’ll always have that.