Taking his place in the middle of his circled teammates, linked arm-in-arm, Steve Zakuani pointed to the Seattle Sounders’ frenzied fans and then tapped the team shield on his chest.
His teammates soaked in the response of more than 40,000 who filled CenturyLink Field on for the season’s first meeting with rival Portland.
“You could see how much it means to the fans, but it has to mean more to the players,” Zakuani said of Saturday’s game. “I just wanted to get the guys fired up because it’s such an important game for us … this is not just a normal game, this is a rivalry game and we need to show (the fans) we care.”
Inspired, the Sounders scored early and controlled the game before Portland’s Rodney Wallace headed in the equalizer in the 90th minute. Coming so late, it made the 1-1 draw feel like a loss to the Sounders.
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Don’t blame Zakuani, he set the tone for the game with his play as well as his pregame prompting, taking a speedy run in the 13th minute, swinging wide up the left side to clear room to center it perfectly to Eddie Johnson for the goal.
Aside from being a physical game with a Cascadia Cup rival, this also provided the first chance to see new Sounders forward Obafemi Martins.
Like the Seahawks’ trend of making pricey acquisitions, the Sounders forked over $4 million for the rights to Martins (in addition to his salary as a designated player).
He was on the field for the final 20 minutes, and kicked a beautiful centering pass in the 80th minute but nobody was in the goal mouth to turn it into a score.
Martins is 28, and slight at 5-foot-7, 154. He’s now playing professionally in his sixth country. A native of Nigeria, he left home at 16 to play in Italy and then bounced to England, Germany, Russia, Spain, and now to the United States.
Let’s not question his desire to be in the MLS. With a small window between getting his paperwork done and meeting his obligation to play for his national team against Kenya in a World Cup qualifier next week, Martins insisted on flying to Seattle to get a feel for the atmosphere.
Although he was told by team officials he probably should just stay in Spain rather than squeezing in a hectic trip to America, he flew from Madrid to London to Seattle on Friday. His flight today, from Seattle to Houston to Lagos, was scheduled to take off at 7 a.m.
He explained after the game that the travel was worth it to start bonding with the team and to get a sense of his new surroundings.
“His mind, his spirit and his soul is here,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said of Martins. No word was given on whether his luggage arrived along with his mind and soul.
Schmid liked the way his team started, because the Sounders seemed to carry the momentum built up when they cut loose for three goals in 22 minutes on Tuesday in a CONCACAF Champions League game.
Even though Tigres, from Mexico, didn’t bring their full starting unit for the game, the Sounders’ offensive outburst had to be encouraging, since at times in their history it felt like they hadn’t scored three goals in 22 games.
But after the Sounders took the early lead on Saturday, the Timbers started beating them to what Schmid called the “50-50” balls.
“We’ve just got to finish our games better,” Schmid said.
Yes, the Sounders gave their fans a full 89 minutes.
But a letdown in the 90th cost them a win.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org @DaveBoling