TUKWILA — Perhaps Jordy Delem has a knack for breaking up plays on the soccer field because his parents were talented scorers.
“They tell me he was one of the best, so I believe them,” Delem said of his father, Jose Bourgeoes, who played for the national team of Martinique, a French island territory in the eastern Caribbean Sea nestled between Dominica and Saint Lucia with a population smaller than the metro Seattle area.
Delem’s parents played for local club teams, encouraging him and his older sister to play, the elder sibling uninterested in the sport. But somewhere in teaching Delem the spacing required to score, he found more interest in stopping their goals and breaking up passes — so much that he worked his way to the Sounders starting lineup as a defensive midfielder.
Sure, it’s due to Gustav Svensson’s hamstring injury. The veteran Svensson will miss his fifth straight game when Seattle (6-1-4) hosts Orlando City SC (3-5-3) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at CenturyLink Field. But Delem doesn’t play like a backup.
“His work-rate is second to none, maybe a little bit (like) Ozzie (Alonso) in there,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “Some things maybe you don’t see all the time because it’s the things done off the ball or when the guy he’s covering doesn’t have the ball. But still, he’s covering a lot of ground and closing holes — making it difficult for strikers to find balls in the pockets.
“Those are the thankless things. He does work to eliminate passes and if they don’t happen, it’s a job well done on his part.”
Delem, now 26, was spotted at a Major League Soccer Caribbean combine playing his preferred center back. In 2016, he signed with the Sounders’ USL team — then referred to as the Sounders FC 2 and now called the Tacoma Defiance — to play center back.
It wasn’t until he was called up to the MLS team and worked with Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer that Delem expanded his skills to be able to play right back and defensive midfielder in addition to center back. He was signed by the first team in 2017 and regards last season as a breakout year, even scoring his first MLS goal in a 3-1 win against Minnesota United.
Delem is good friends with midfielder Cristian Roldan, which has helped continue Delem’s solid play with the starters this season. Roldan and Delem have worked particularly well as midfielders, Roldan being able to tap into his scoring capabilities to net two goals in the club’s past two matches.
“Sometimes you have to feel it,” Delem said of his style, even using his quick pace in the win against Houston on Saturday to find himself along the front line. “But I like the defense. I like to give tackles. Maybe everybody loves me for that. Breaking down the opposing attack is my favorite job. Sometimes I have to have some good passes like I did (against Houston) and of course it’s nice when you score, but it’s not my first thought.”
In addition to Svensson, the Sounders will be without Victor Rodriguez against Orlando City, Schmetzer said Tuesday. The left winger Rodriguez strained his left hamstring against Houston and likely will be replaced by Harry Shipp on Wednesday.
Similar to Delem defensively, Shipp was able to fill in nicely offensively and score two goals as a sub and starter in April. He played 75 minutes against Houston, getting a shot on target and finishing with a 94.9 passing percentage.
“How hard was our depth working when we didn’t need depth?” Frei said of the reserves. “You can’t just go, ‘All right, I’m ready.’ You really have to have put in the work beforehand to make sure you’re ready when the chance comes and the team really needs you. Delem is a perfect example. He’s fitting in extremely well and has helped us tremendously right away.”