There’s a freedom about Brad Smith this season. And it’s not just because the Sounders FC defender is sporting a bald head.
Smith’s fully signed to the club, no longer on loan from England’s A.F.C. Bournemouth, and the Sounders’ new two-forward formation fits his style of play.
The left fullback had his first extensive run in the lineup Tuesday in a closed-door scrimmage against the Portland Timbers at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. Instead of playing along the backline on the left side as Smith did as a starter during the Sounders’ 2019 MLS Cup run, he’s moved up to the midfield.
“My best part of the game is attacking,” Smith said during a conference call with media Wednesday. “It’s a lot more running than just playing traditional left back, that’s for sure, because you don’t have a winger in front, you’ve got to do both. But it also gives you the freedom to go forward and know that you’ve got the cover behind you.”
On Tuesday, that defensive coverage was Nouhou, which put two of the club’s most explosive players on the field at the same time. Since Smith’s arrival via loan in 2018, the pair have been jockeying for starter minutes at left back.
“They each have a really good skill set,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Brad is a really good left wingback and he gets up and down the field and he’s the one guy that can stretch the field much like Jordan Morris does, albeit from a slightly different position on the field. … When that gap opens up on the left-hand side, Nouhou is athletic enough that if our opponent dumps balls into the space in behind Brad, Nouhou can cover that space. Right now, it’s working out.”
Smith, who’ll turn 27 next week, said his new hairstyle had to do with being in England during the offseason as the country shut down nonessential places like barbershops. He’s since relocated to the Seattle area with his wife, two children and dog.
The transition is easier than when Smith re-signed with the club in September 2020. He had some minor injuries and only appeared in five regular-season games, with one start, totaling 148 minutes. He totaled 87 minutes during the Sounders’ postseason run to the MLS Cup final, where Seattle lost to the Columbus Crew SC.
“It was a difficult time for me to come into the team,” said Smith, who had completed his loan contract with Cardiff City FC in Wales. “The timing of the league’s crossing over is tough sometimes. But now I’m fully a Sounder player and none of that will happen again. We’re all on the same wavelength.”
The Sounders are expected to host USL Championship side Phoenix Rising FC on Sunday and San Diego Loyal SC on April 10 to conclude their preseason slate. Schmetzer said he’s going to play the starters for each match the full 90 minutes and make final roster decisions afterward.
Schmetzer gets more anxious with every training day that passes without Raul Ruidiaz on the field. Ruidiaz remains in his native Peru as the Sounders work with immigration in procuring a green card.
The document is beneficial to the Sounders because it opens up an international spot on the roster. MLS teams are permitted eight and Seattle currently has six, including Ruidiaz.
“If I don’t see him by Friday, my head might pop off my body,” Schmetzer said. “With all of the challenges in a COVID world, immigration rules, changes, how things operate in different countries, it has been a real challenge.”
Ruidiaz told Pulso Sports, a bilingual site, late Wednesday that he will arrive in Seattle on Friday.
Schmetzer said reverting to the standard process to bring international players to the U.S. wasn’t being considered.
As one of the club’s three Designated Players, Ruidiaz was named to the league’s Best XI team last season and led the Rave Green in scoring with 12 goals and four assists.
“Every morning I ask, ‘Where is Raul?’” Schmetzer said. “It’s always beneficial to have your foreign players commit to getting a green card. It helps you with your roster. So, I don’t think we’d do anything different. It’s just been a super frustrating process not just for me, but Raul as well.”
NOTE: Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe did not play in Tuesday’s preseason matchup against Portland due to a tight hamstring.