MLS Soccer

Sounders confirm Chinese interest in Martins

Obafemi Martins isn’t gone from the Seattle Sounders, but a move is being discussed.

The club’s top goal scorer for the last two seasons became the subject of transfer rumors last week. On Sunday, those morphed into a specific report from the BBC that Martins is headed to a Chinese club, Shanghai Shenhua.

Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey stopped short only of confirming a done deal.

“I can tell you that Oba’s not here with us in this phase of camp,” he said from the team’s training base in Walnut, California. “We’ve had an approach from a Chinese club for his services. It could take a while to have that resolved, and there’s really nothing else we can add at this point; but hopefully we know more by the end of the week.”

Martins, 31, has scored 43 goals in 84 appearances since joining the Sounders as a designated player in March 2013. He set a club record with 17 goals in 2014 and led Seattle with 15 goals last season.

He was a Major League Soccer Best XI selection in 2014 and was voted team MVP in each of the past two seasons.

Even at that, he is part of an overflow of star forwards on the Sounders alongside designated players Clint Dempsey and Nelson Valdez and homegrown U.S. national team member Jordan Morris.

Coach Sigi Schmid has shifted his team to a 4-3-3 formation to get an additional forward on the pitch, but even that would leave one of the big four on the bench.

The financial considerations involving any Martins move are not yet known, but it certainly would open a DP slot, which the Sounders could use in their efforts to get younger and more athletic in midfield or along the back line.

The Sounders are training in Southern California through Thursday. Their first meaningful competition of the new year comes Feb. 23 when they begin a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series in Seattle against Club America.

“I don’t think (the Martins issue) has any impact on us in the sense that we’ll go forward with this group,” Lagerwey said. “That’s who we’ve been training. Those are the guys that are here, those are the guys that we’re going to rely upon. … We’ll do what we need to do. We have contingency plans. If that third DP spot opens up, it gives us a lot more roster flexibility and an ability to implement our long-term vision for this team. And if it doesn’t, then we’ll have Obafemi Martins back, and that will be a good thing, too.”

The club’s eighth MLS season begins March 6 when Sporting Kansas City visits CenturyLink Field.

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