It’s been five days and Joao Paulo’s goal is still traveling around the world.
The Sounders midfielder scored the textbook volley to open the second half of the club’s blowout win against Minnesota on Friday at Lumen Field. Joao Paulo collected an attempted clearance out of the air with a soft tap with his right foot and before the ball hit the ground, used a powerful strike that beamed the ball to the back of the net in the 49th minute.
Joao Paulo’s score from outside the box was SportsCenter’s top play of the night Friday. The Brazilian had Twitter circulating clips of the score thousands of times. And the shot is the overwhelming favorite to be MLS’s “Goal of the Week.”
“I knew I wanted to shoot it two times,” said Joao Paulo, as translated from Portuguese, of the goal. “So first I controlled, prepared for the shot. Then I felt if it didn’t make it to the goal, it was going to be very close cause I felt really good about how I touched it.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer gushed about the play after the 4-0 win. Seattle scored all of its goals in the second half.
“Oh, my God, he just did that,” Schmetzer said of his initial reaction. “We don’t get enough Brazil TV here in the United States, but you see that in (top-flight leagues) all the time. Greatest goals in the last 10 years. That was a technical masterpiece. I loved it.”
Joao Paulo might earn the nickname of “technician” if he nails a few more bangers like Friday. He has five goals across all competitions since signing as a Designated Player for the Sounders in January 2020.
Schmetzer noted the midfielder’s skill last season after Joao Paulo scored in a 3-1 October 2020 win against Vancouver at Lumen Field. Again, Joao Paulo retrieved an attempted clearance, this time using a soft first touch to tee up a running, right-footed swipe at the ball for a goal in the 46th minute.
“He makes it look easy,” Schmetzer said at the time. “It’s such a simple goal but that’s the thing that young players are lacking. That is what young players have to strive for.”
In the middle of the lead-up to Joao Paulo’s brilliant score was Josh Atencio, the 19-year-old from Bellevue. The midfielder received his first MLS career start Friday due to Nico Lodeiro suffering a left quad strain.
Atencio totaled 11 minutes in five matches as a substitute for the Rave Green last season. But Schmetzer’s comfort in having an inexperienced player anchor the team against Minnesota was largely due to Atencio’s performance last season.
Due to MLS safety restrictions amid the pandemic, Tacoma Defiance and academy players couldn’t float between the different team trainings. The Sounders had to retain a bubble, Schmetzer intentionally keeping Atencio with the first-team to develop.
“That kid had a really good game, a fantastic game,” Schmetzer said of Atencio, who completed 81% of his passes and had a team-leading six tackles.
“You witnessed his transformation,” Schmetzer said. “He looked like a very, very talented MLS player. I was just talking to Adrian Heath, the coach from Minnesota, and he was very impressed with Josh’s performance.”
Slow starts used to be synonymous with the Sounders but the club might have left that trait in 2018 — the last time Seattle started a MLS season with a losing streak.
Seattle opened the 2019 campaign with a club-record six-game unbeaten streak. Last year, despite three different starts because of the league shutdown, summer tournament and resumed regular-season schedule, the Sounders were unbeaten in seven of their first eight matches.
Friday’s win is just one of a 34-game schedule but the thumping is in line with the Sounders making a splash to open a season. The four-goal margin of victory is the most lopsided for an opener in the club’s 13-year MLS history.
Lodeiro’s status for Saturday’s road game at Los Angeles FC is still murky. According to an interview Schmetzer gave on KJR Tuesday, Lodeiro did return to training.
“Probably a little premature for me to say he’s going to have a chance to play because we need him to get a couple training days in,” Schmetzer said. “If he can train in full on Friday, we’ll take him down with us. If he can’t train in full on Friday, I’ll probably wait until the Galaxy game (on May 2 at Lumen Field).”
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