Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson has never played in a playoff-formatted league before, but says he loves thriving under pressure in big games
Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson has never participated in a playoff format like the one Major League Soccer employs.
All of the professional soccer leagues the globe-trotting Svensson had previously frequented in Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine and China simply awarded the championship to the top regular season finisher. But Svensson nonetheless feels comfortable with the idea of playing these intense, meaningful playoff matchups every week or two, saying they remind him a lot more of his regular seasons overseas.
“It’s a little bit different, but I’ve played for many teams that were trying to be the winner of their league so it was basically the same thing,’’ he said Tuesday. “You have to win that game to be able to win the league. The biggest difference is in the beginning of the season, or the middle of the (MLS) season. Those games don’t really count as much as now at the end of the playoffs.
“But in the normal league, every game counts the same.’’
Svensson won the title in the Swedish first division Allsvensken league in 2007 with his hometown IFK Goteborg side in Gothenburg. He was also part of three runner-up finishes in 2009, 2014 and 2015, so he knows well the pressure of trying to win games as a season winds down.
Not surprisingly, Svensson now seems to have elevated his game for these playoffs even beyond the valued contributions made all season filling in at various spots in the midfield and along the team’s back line. He scored the first and eventual winning goal last week in Houston when the Sounders beat the Dynamo 2-0 to take a commanding lead in their two-leg Western Conference Final.
The Sounders can wrap things up Thursday night at CenturyLink Field, knowing that – with away goals looming as the tiebreaker in the aggregate series – the Dynamo must score at least twice to have a chance at moving on.
“It’s always more difficult to play when you have a score or a lead you need to protect,’’ Svensson said. “But we’ve prepared good. It’s going to be a fun game.’’
At least one computer simulation taken this week, by the Football Manager 18 soccer management video game, predicted the Sounders will win 4-1 on aggregate and advance to next week’s MLS Cup. Developed by Sports Interactive and Sega, the game features more than 350,000 players worldwide and already correctly predicted the Sounders would win last week’s opening leg, though with a 2-1 score instead of 2-0.
It says the Sounders will win 2-0 in Thursday’s game, with Clint Dempsey and Svensson doing the scoring. Though Svensson is not typically a goal-scorer, his only regular season strike was also huge. It was the tying goal in an historic Sounders comeback from 3-0 down to defeat D.C. United 4-3 last July.
Expected to be used in spot duty as mainly a defensive midfielder when he signed with the Sounders last winter, Svensson has instead appeared in 32 of the club’s 34 games – starting 30 of them. One of the two games he missed was so he could leave early to train with Sweden ahead of some World Cup qualifying matches.
Now, as the playoffs head to their final stages, his contributions are getting stronger. The Sounders have yet to allow a playoff goal and Svensson has been a key part of that – starting for the injured Osvaldo Alonso all three post-season matches as a defensive midfielder.
That’s one reason Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer is leaning towards keeping Svensson in the midfield Thursday instead of dropping him back one rung to replace suspended center back Roman Torres. Svensson has filled in at center back this season already – as well as at right back – but Schmetzer could opt to put the less-experienced Tony Alfaro there instead and not mess with the good thing Svensson has done higher up.
“I told Schmetzer at the beginning of the season and I tell him every time I speak that if he needs me to play at other positions, then I have no problem with that,’’ he said. “As long as I have a position. And then I can switch on from there a little bit.’’
Right now, getting on the field is all he cares about. Svensson may not have played in a playoff-formatted league before, but he’s liking it.
“These are the types of games you dream of playing in as a kid,’’ he said. “This is the kind of game that you’ll remember after your career. So, the more you play in them, the happier you’ll become.’’