Oba, we hardly knew ye, or why his China move matters

By Paul Kennedy

Let's say it's a Saturday night and you've been out and want to catch up on the day's MLS action.

If your favorite team isn't playing or you're not a fan of a particular team, it's going to take something special for you to scroll your Twitter feed or your favorite soccer Web site and check out the day's MLS action. What's going to separate MLS from all the clutter of soccer highlights?

Only a few MLS players will consistently thrill you. Obafemi Martins and Sebastian Giovinco to begin with. A few of the Argentines, Diego Valeri, Javier Morales, Federico Higuain, Mauro Diaz. You might throw in a bunch of the Revs who are always good for golazos.

Now, it looks like Martins is headed to China. While the Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey on Sunday stated that there was no deal in place for the 31-year-old Martins to move to Shanghai Shenhua, a move should be done once Shenhau clears one of its four non-Asian foreigners off its roster, likely French-born Malian international Momo Sissoko. (As a player from an AFC member, Australian Tim Cahill, the former Red Bulls star who quit Shenhau on Tuesday, didn't count.)

Martins scored 40 goals in three MLS seasons but didn't have a goal or an assist over eight playoff games. If it's an MLS championship Sounders fans crave, some might not be too upset about Martins' exit.

But for MLS neutrals or soccer agnostics, Martins' impending exit is a huge loss. Nine of Martins' 40 goals were MLS Goals of the Week. That means nearly a quarter of the time that you watched Martins score, it was a damn good goal. (I won't count his celebratory flips as adding to the viewing enjoyment.)

Martins' exit also underscores what has always been a problem for MLS and its fans: the transitory nature of its stars.

We've had Martins to get excited about for all of three years and now he's likely gone. As long as MLS relies so heavily on imported players -- so far 38 of the 76 new signings for 2016 are imports and that percentage will go up as the season goes along -- they will always be here today, gone tomorrow.

When Peyton Manning throws 539 career touchdown passes, NFL fans will have seen every one of them. The same for Steph Curry's 1,436 three-pointers. NBA fans will have been able to marvel at every one of them. More often than not, MLS fans will only have a chance to watch along closely with a fraction of their favorite player's career.

For argument's sake, let's say one home run equates to one goal in terms of their frequency and their watchability. On an average night, there are almost as many goals in MLS (27.6) as home runs in MLB (30.4). And you're just as likely stay up to watch the goals of the day as the home runs of the day.

As Major League Baseball enters the 2016 season, 36 active players have hit 200 or more home runs. As MLS begins 2016, only one active player has even hit the century mark in goals: Chris Wondolowski with 109. No one else is even close. The next player with a shot at achieving 100 goals is Robbie Keane, and he'll need 27 goals in the next two seasons.

Sure, there are more MLB teams than MLS teams -- and a lot more dates. But the difference in how often fans get to celebrate along with their favorite players is stark.

Landon Donovan is the all-time MLS goalscorer with 144 goals in a 14-year career. That's a fraction of the goals scored by the all-time leaders in Europe's major leagues:

German Bundesliga: Gerd Mueller (365)
English top-flight: Jimmy Greaves (357)
Spanish La Liga: Lionel Messi (333)
French Ligue 1: Delio Onnis (299)
Italian Serie A: Silvio Piola (275)

MLS fans have been fortunate with Martins. He's enjoyed the two most productive seasons of his career in 2014 and 2015.

But wouldn't it have been great if we had Oba around for all of its 150 career goals?

Or if he'd stay with the Sounders in MLS for the rest of his career?
4 comments about "Oba, we hardly knew ye, or why his China move matters".
  1. Phil Hardy, February 16, 2016 at 5:13 p.m.

    I could not agree with you more, retaining star players needs to become a new league priority for those in their peak years; late 20's, early 30's. He was clearly one of the stars of the league and looked a threat to score or do something fantastic any time he touched the ball. With a rumored transfer fee of only $3 million, it makes you wonder what kind of wages they are offering him? The Chinese league is a mystery to probably almost all of us. I've never even seen a league table or know how many teams are in it. If MLS is now in danger of losing it's best aged players (29-31) to this league then MLS has a huge new problem to contend with.

  2. Margaret Manning, February 16, 2016 at 5:35 p.m.


  3. :: SilverRey ::, February 16, 2016 at 5:55 p.m.

    Other sports hold on to players because there is no other place to go. When MLS becomes THE league to play in, you will see those numbers...

  4. beautiful game, February 18, 2016 at 5:06 p.m.

    Silver Rey, don't hold your breath. Until the MLS starts paying $150K+ weekly salaries, you'll keep watching the creme de la creme perform on TV.

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