By Liviu Bird
SEATTLE — Obafemi Martins scored his first multi-goal game for Seattle Sounders FC on Wednesday, defeating D.C. United 2-0 in front of 39,180 fans at CenturyLink Field.
Brad Evans provided the first breakthrough with a ball that split D.C. defenders and hit Martins in stride in the 19th minute. He slotted home under pressure and capped it off with his trademark backflip celebration.
“It was a good assist,” Martins said after the game. “He took his time to pass the ball, and I have to position myself very well, and I have to touch the ball. I have to place the ball inside the goalkeeper.”
By conceding the early goal, D.C. continued its abysmal record of defending in the game’s opening stages. Nearly half — 14 of 29 — of its goals against in 2013 have come in the first half hour of matches.
D.C. nearly equalized in the 22nd minute, but Lionard Pajoy was flagged offside after taking down Chris Korb’s cross from the left side behind the back line and putting it past goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
Seattle threatened to double their lead multiple times in the second half, but just could not connect a final pass to goal. Near the hour mark, Martins dummied a ball to Evans in the central channel, but Evans seemed surprised by the move and could not retain possession of the ball.
In the 63rd minute, Martins and Eddie Johnson combined neatly on top of the penalty area, but goalkeeper Joe Willis made a quick reaction save with his legs to deny Johnson his 60th career MLS goal. It was a moment of chemistry for the forward pairing that they have lacked in their matches together so far. Wednesday marked the first time in four tries that Seattle has won when Martins and Johnson start together. In fact, it was the first goal either has scored while playing together.
“For me, we’ve been playing well. That’s my own opinion,” Martins said. “The fans, the journalists, they expect more from us. It takes a lot of time because we’ve never played [with] each other, so we’re doing well in the training. In the game, we’re getting there. We have a lot of games to play.”
Gspurning made his best save of the night just a minute later, tipping a shot from Chris Pontius over the bar. Pontius blasted his shot on target from 25 yards out, but the lanky Austrian goalkeeper was equal to it. When he smothered Perry Kitchen’s shot through traffic in the 86th minute, he finished off his and Seattle’s sixth shutout of the season.
“Tonight was one of those games that you’ve just got to grind out,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. “I don’t think it was necessarily our best soccer.”
Martins killed the game off in stoppage time, chasing down consecutive bad touches from D.C. defenders Ethan White and James Riley and putting home a goal born of pure work rate. It was Martins’ sixth league goal of the season, putting him into the team lead. He has played 636 minutes since joining Seattle from Levante in Spain’s La Liga, giving him 0.85 goals per 90 minutes, also the best on the Sounders.
D.C. (2-13-3, 10th place in Eastern Conference) plays the Colorado Rapids in Denver on Sunday. Seattle (7-5-3, sixth place in Western Conference) travel to play the Vancouver Whitecaps in a Cascadia Cup game on Saturday.
“We’re looking forward to it because we’re looking to get into the rhythm of playing games,” Schmid said. “The guys are looking forward to not having to hear my voice more in practice.”
• Before Wednesday’s match, the MLS Disciplinary Committee fined D.C. head coach Ben Olsen $2,000 for referring to referee Matthew Foerster as “the joker in the middle” during his post-game press conference after the Vancouver Whitecaps defeated D.C. 1-0 on Saturday.
Last year, Schmid was fined the same amount and also suspended a game for referring to Ricardo Salazar as Real Salt Lake’s “12th man” in a nationally televised halftime interview during a scoreless draw on Oct. 17.
• Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso missed a second straight match with a quadriceps tear. Defender DeAndre Yedlin was absent with a shoulder injury he suffered during the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Schmid said earlier this week that both would likely be available on Saturday.
For D.C., captain Dwayne De Rosario and midfielder Nick DeLeon missed the match with injuries of their own. Normal starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid is on national team duty with the United States for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
• Schmid should finish the week as the first coach in MLS history to coach 400 career regular-season games. After the game against D.C., he has 399, meaning his milestone will come Saturday at Vancouver.