The Seattle Sounders’ lineup changed for the better Sunday, and so did their result.
With a starting 11 infused by the return of Obafemi Martins and the debuts of Nelson Valdez and Roman Torres, the Sounders ended a five-game losing streak with a 4-0 mauling of expansion Orlando City SC at CenturyLink Field.
The new blood contributed directly: Martins scored two goals, Valdez one, and Torres got an assist while also adding muscle to the middle of a defense that didn’t allow a shot on goal.
“Obviously having some guys back on the park made a big difference for us,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Oba being on the park obviously helps us — not only just his play, but it gives everybody around the team a little more confidence. I thought Valdez had a great debut game. I think you see why we brought him here: his ability to battle and fight. Torres was a calming influence in the back.”
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Martins returned exactly two months after suffering an adductor strain June 16 in the U.S. Open Cup. In his absence, the Sounders went 1-8 in league play, scoring just three goals over that stretch.
With Martins back, it took Seattle 62 minutes to match that goal total — and 90 minutes plus a bit of stoppage time to exceed it.
“He brings special qualities,” Schmid said. “But the most important thing: He also brings everybody else on the field confidence. … And as their confidence grows, now all of a sudden guys who have been struggling they play beyond themselves a little bit, and it makes all the difference in the world.”
Martins opened the scoring in the 17th minute, creating his own opportunity with a spin near the top of the penalty area, then working a give-and-go with Lamar Neagle and finishing past Orlando goalkeeper Tally Hall, a Gig Harbor High School graduate.
In the 39th minute, Orlando defender Tyler Turner was shown a second yellow card, and the Lions played a man down the rest of the way.
Seattle took advantage in the 51st minute, with Valdez heading in his first MLS goal.
Martins got his club-high ninth goal 11 minutes later, tapping a short chip to himself over the charging Hall and then finishing with the bottom of his boot.
Seconds before the final whistle, Thomas notched his first goal as a Sounder, assisted by Torres.
“We said before the game, ‘This is where the bleeding stops,’” Seattle captain Brad Evans said. “We’ve said that before and we came out kind of iffy; but today I thought everybody from minute one was on the same game plan.”
Four goals proved more than enough for a reworked Sounders defense that notched its first shutout since July 3. Torres paired with All-Star centerback Chad Marshall in the middle, while rookie Oniel Fisher made his third career start at left back. Along with right back Tyrone Mears, they limited the Lions (7-11-7) to five shots, none on target, and held former FIFA world player of the year Kaka to a single attempt.
“He was frustrated today,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “If you see Kaka frustrated and yelling at his teammates, that means you’re doing something right. I was very happy with that.”
Even with the reinforcements, the Sounders still were well short of full strength. Clint Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso and Chad Barrett all remained out with hamstring injuries, and the debut of midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz was delayed by a tight quadriceps.
Schmid indicated Ivanschitz could be ready Wednesday when Olimpia of Honduras visits in CONCACAF Champions League.
Seattle (11-12-2) returns to MLS play Saturday at Real Salt Lake.
“Welcome to the last 10 games of the season,” Schmid said. “Hopefully it will be more like the first 10 games of the season.”
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