Obafemi Martins says he’s ready for Sounders-Timbers rivalry

Nigerian striker Martins, the newest Sounder, brings 12 years of European play

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comMarch 16, 2013 

Sounders FC acquired one of the highest-profile players in its history Friday and couldn’t wait to show him off.

The club introduced Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins through a press conference near Sea-Tac Airport’s baggage-claim area after his flight from London touched down Friday.

That could be followed by his Major League Soccer debut today, when Seattle meets rival Portland at CenturyLink Field. Martins seemed tired after his flight from London, but he said he would be ready if called.

“All the traveling, and I’ve not been training for a couple of days now,” he said. “It all depends on the coach anyway. Like I said, I’m ready to play. That’s why I’m here.”

Martins, 28, played 12 seasons in Europe’s top leagues, most recently with Levante of Spain’s La Liga. He played five years with Inter Milan of Italy’s Serie A and three with Newcastle United of the English Premier League.

He scored 49 goals in 135 competitions with Inter, helping the club to four major championships including the Serie A title in 2005-06. At Newcastle, he scored 35 goals in 104 competitions. He also had his highest-scoring season there in 2006-07 with 17 goals — 11 in the EPL and six in UEFA Champions League.

Martins also played for Wolfsburg of the German Bundesliga, Russia’s Rubin and England’s Birmingham City

before last season, when he joined Levante and had nine goals in 24 competitions.

“When (Sounders sporting director) Chris Henderson came to approach me with my agent, they were talking about coming to MLS to play,” Martins said. “… All of a sudden I just decided to myself, ‘Why not? Let me try and come to the different league and all that.’ So that’s why I’m here.”

Martins also has 18 goals in 38 appearances with his national team, and he will fly out again Sunday to rejoin Nigeria for its World Cup qualifier against Kenya next week.

His signing brings Seattle to the MLS roster maximum of three designated players — along with Mauro Rosales and Shalrie Joseph.

“This move is consistent with our promise to the fans,” majority owner Joe Roth said through a club press release. “Our supporters … deserve a team that competes each and every year. Obafemi is an electrifying talent who has international experience at the highest level.”

Even as Martins was making his intercontinental trip, coach Sigi Schmid was speculating that his new DP might be available to make his Sounders debut — wearing jersey No. 9 — in the Cascadia Cup match today.

“He hasn’t been able to train with us yet or get to know the names of his teammates,” Schmid said. “But what’s really great and encouraging is his desire to want to be here. … I know (Henderson) has been on the phone with him and talked to him about the importance of the game, and he wants to be part of that.”

Portland also will be introducing a new designated player to Cascadia Cup competition. Midfielder Diego Valeri signed with the Timbers after playing nine seasons in Argentina, Portugal and Spain.

He is part of a new look for the Timbers, who hired a new coach, Caleb Porter, and have added players such as forward Ryan Johnson, midfielder Will Johnson and defender Mikael Silvestre.

The Timbers-Sounders rivalry “means a lot to myself, our team, to the fans certainly,” Porter said. “It’s something that we’re going to relish the opportunity to go into CenturyLink and try to get the team’s first win there in the club’s history.”

CCL SEMIFINALS

Sounders FC and Santos Laguna will open their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series at 7 p.m. April 2 at CenturyLink Field. The two-game, aggregate-score series will resolve April 9 at Torreon, Mexico.

Tickets for the home leg go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday.

The winner will go on to meet the winner of the Los Angeles-Monterrey semifinal, which will begin April 3 in California and resolve April 10 in Mexico.

The final round will be played April 24 and May 1.

Santos knocked the Sounders out of last season’s Champions League quarterfinals by an aggregate score of 7-3.

SOUNDERS GAMEDAY

PORTLAND TIMBERS (0-1-1 in MLS; 1 POINT) AT SOUNDERS FC (0-1-0; 0 POINTS)

5 p.m., CenturyLink Field.

TV: NBCSN. Radio: 97.3-FM.

Head to head: Sounders FC leads the MLS series 2-1-2 overall, and 1-0-1 in Seattle. The teams went 1-1-1 last season, and Portland won the Cascadia Cup.

Notes: This is the first match in the 10th Cascadia Cup competition. Seattle, Portland and Vancouver each have won the cup three times. (Seattle didn’t participate in 2009 and 2010). … This match could mark the MLS Sounders debut of designated player Obafeni Martins, who signed Friday and was assigned jersey No. 9. … The Timbers are coached by Caleb Porter, who arrived from the University of Akron, where he coached Sounders Steve Zakuani and DeAndre Yedlin. Portland also restocked its roster with designated player Diego Valeri, midfielder Will Johnson, forward Ryan Johnson and defender Mikael Silvestre. … Portland forward Brent Richards and defender Dylan Tucker-Gangnes attended the University of Washington. … Sounders Brad Evans, Adam Johansson, Shalrie Joseph and Patrick Ianni are out with injuries. Mauro Rosales and David Estrada will be game-time decisions. Timbers midfielder Sal Zizzo, forward Bright Dike and Richards are out; defender David Horst is questionable. … Portland has scored four goals in two home games, but has allowed five. … The game is sold out. … The referee will be Kevin Stott.

Quotable: “They’re a much more possession-oriented team than they’ve been in the past, and maybe a little less dangerous on set pieces right now — although Valeri hits a good dead ball. But they’re not quite as big as they were.” — Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on the Timbers.

Next: The Sounders visit San Jose at 7:30 p.m. March 23.

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com

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