Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer says lingering concerns about the long term health of Brad Evans played a part in the decision to sign Dutch right back Kelvin Leerdam to some bigger Targeted Allocation Money.
New Sounders right back Kelvin Leerdam says he feels well-suited toward a more physical Major League Soccer style of play despite his rather slight physique.
At 5-foot-10, 154 pounds, the Dutch import doesn’t exactly scream physicality. But after nine pro seasons in a competitive European league, Leerdam, 27, feels capable of adapting to whatever MLS opponents throw his way.
“It’s a manly sport,” Leerdam said after working out with his new team Saturday for the first time. “Most of my game is tactical, but if I have to be hard it’s a man’s game. So, I’m going to be hard.”
The Sounders are investing substantial Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) in a player who will likely replace Brad Evans as the starting right back. Leerdam gives them a dual offensive-defensive threat up and down the right side much like they already have with left back Joevin Jones on the opposite flank.
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Getting more balanced and away from their left-sided tilt has been a season-long pre-occupation for coach Brian Schmetzer and this acquisition helps get the team there.
“There will be a learning curve and Kelvin will have to get up to speed and vice-versa,” Schmetzer said. “So, we still have Brad (Evans) there in that interim period. There will be some competition there. And if Brad moves on and he’s versatile enough to help us in attack — if we can’t get another guy in here pretty soon — it opens up a lot.”
The official transfer window doesn’t open until July 10, meaning Leerdam won’t be eligible to play a regular season game for the team until July 19 against D.C. United. But the health concerns with Evans, who has appeared in only seven games thus far after missing the first two months plus with a calf injury, did play a role in acquiring Leerdam.
“I think it had something to do with it,” Schmetzer said. “Obviously, we’re looking to add depth at different positions. I think that’s one of the things that was lacking maybe a little bit.”
Schmetzer said he’d discussed the situation with Evans even as the team was still seeking player additions and had yet to fully decide upon Leerdam. He added that Evans understands the situation and is a “team guy” willing to do what’s best.
“This is pro sports,” Schmetzer said. “If Brad’s better, he plays. It’s simple. And if not, he’ll go somewhere else to help the team. That’s pro sports.”
Leerdam coming over to the Sounders in his prime from the top Eredivisie league in The Netherlands isn’t a usual MLS occurence. Traditionally, MLS players head the other way in their 20s.
Sounders vice-president and scouting director Chris Henderson said the signing is an indicator of how the overall MLS talent level has risen to where it can attract European players yet to pass their prime. Henderson did scout Leerdam in person two years ago, but the team relied mainly on video footage and other second-hand reports the last six months in taking a more serious look at him.
Ultimately, what they saw was enough to pre-empt another firsthand visit.
“The way we play, our outside backs are very involved in the game,” Henderson said. “They’re getting most of the touches as we form our attack. Kelvin’s feet are very good. He’s good technically, he’s good going forward. He had a season of nine goals as a right back…so, we’re happy to have a guy who’s still young and has experience behind him.
“We think he’s going to add to our attack and he’s going to help us solidify defensively as well.”
Leerdam hopes some of that experience rubs off on the team’s younger players. He says he started following MLS play 2 1/2 years ago and also got some advice about it last season from then-SBV Vitesse teammate Matt Miazga — the American-born former New York Red Bulls defender loaned by Chelsea last summer to the Dutch squad.
“He told me that it’s tough,” Leerdam said. “It’s not like in Europe, technically. But the players put a lot of energy in it. Especially, he told me about the traveling also. That you need to stay fit with your body if you want to make it.”
Ultimately, he said Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey gave him a good feeling about the club and helped him decide over some other offers. That and the TAM money — a first by the Sounders for a right back — undoubtedly helped lure a player the Sounders hope can help transform a sub-par season to-date.