With a concise “My name is Leo Chu and I want to come here and win” introduction, the Brazilian striker began his Sounders FC career Thursday.
“From a physical standpoint, I feel well,” Leo Chu said, as translated from Portuguese, of his first training session at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. “Rhythm, I’ll need some time to get back to it. It’s been a month and 10 days since my last match, but I trust that I will be (able) to contribute very quickly.”
Leo Chu was signed at the end of the secondary transfer window in August as part of MLS’s U-22 Initiative. The budgetary rule announced in April allows teams to sign a maximum of three up-and-coming players to lucrative contracts that are discounted when calculating the salary cap.
The 21-year-old’s pace, aggressiveness on the ball and potential versatility is what attracted the Sounders although due to COVID-19 restrictions, they were unable to see Leo Chu play in-person the past year. He began his professional career in 2020 with Brazilian Serie A side Gremio.
The club first loaned Leo Chu to Ceara Sporting Club. He made one start and four appearances for Gremio this season, the last being when he substituted on in the 88th minute of a loss on Aug. 1.
“The process was really fast,” Leo Chu said of signing. “I knew just two days before it, and then very quickly we agreed. I continued to train and get prepared, so that I could get here and help the team.”
This is Leo Chu’s first experience living outside his native country, but he has a friend in the Sounders locker room. Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo, who was signed in January 2020, provided the final assurance for Leo Chu to accept the Sounders’ offer.
Joao Paulo and Fredy Montero have been assisting Leo Chu since his arrival Saturday. Leo Chu is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, sharing Thursday that it helped with the early transition in communicating with his new teammates.
Sounders fans were introduced to Leo Chu on Sunday. Lumen Field was filled with more than 45,000 fans as part of a Cascadia derby doubleheader between OL Reign and the Portland Thorns FC and the Sounders and Timbers.
“It was actually an indescribable feeling,” Leo Chu said of the atmosphere. Because of MLS protocols amid the pandemic, he wasn’t allowed in the locker room and had to watch the game in a private suite but was introduced on the field.
“I ascended to the pros 1½ years ago and because of COVID, I had not experienced a full stadium,” Leo Chu continued. “So, this is something that will go into my memories for life.”
Leo Chu selected the No. 23 jersey because he’s a big fan of Michael Jordan. And the midfielder could feature in a Sounders match as soon as Sept. 11 when the club hosts Minnesota United FC at Lumen Field.
The match is the first of three in an eight-day stretch for the Sounders (12-4-6).
“If he’s good enough. If he can compete. If he’s fit enough,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of the probability. “We’ve got a condensed schedule coming up. He needs to get up to speed, fast. Where is he going to play, that’s maybe the bigger question. Let’s see how we incorporate him tactically. That’s probably the biggest hurdle we have to overcome.”
Thursday was typical exuberance from a new player. Schmetzer plans to have another challenging training Friday before starting the lead-up to the Minnesota match.
Frei in goal
Sounders keeper Stefan Frei should be in goal for the Minnesota game. He’s been out since May due to a sprained knee injury that developed blood clots in rehabilitation.
“There’s a strong likelihood that you’ll see him,” Schmetzer said Thursday.
Despite the four-month layoff, Frei isn’t expected to first make an appearance for the USL Championship side Tacoma Defiance to continue to regain his game-day fitness. Schmetzer is expecting to have his teenagers play for Tacoma for fitness reasons.
“Stef is one of those players that has enough experience,” Schmetzer said of the two-time MLS Cup champion. “We may get some young guys some minutes there because they’re going to have to start playing again.”