Few players can “poach” goals off loose or misplayed balls in the box quite the way veteran Sounders forward Will Bruin has made his career doing.
Bruin was at it again Monday, launching a historic Sounders comeback in the 75th minute of the Western Conference final against Minnesota United by drilling a bouncing, previously blocked ball into the back of the net. But Bruin isn’t quite as tolerant of poaching by others; as a would-be porch pirate discovered when he tried to make off with a planned Christmas gift just delivered to Bruin’s driveway two days before the Minnesota game.
Within seconds, Bruin, who was alerted to the thief’s presence by a motion detector and an Apple watch monitor, bolted outside and chased him down.
“I saw this guy on a bicycle trying to steer with packages on his two handlebars and just chased after him, caught up to him and confronted him,’’ Bruin said this week while preparing for Saturday’s MLS Cup final against the Columbus Crew. “He just gave the packages back right away. I think he was more surprised that I actually took off after him as opposed to just taking the packages and not having to deal with the repercussions.’’
A year ago, the thief might have escaped with his haul – Christmas stockings Bruin had purchased as a gift for his 2-week-old son, Coen – as the 6-foot-2, 194-pound Sounder was still recuperating from a torn ACL in his knee. But while Bruin’s running ability has clearly returned, he admittedly lacked a follow-up plan once he caught the thief and is glad things ended merely with him delivering a stern talking-to.
“He said, ‘I’m going through a really tough time,’ ” Bruin said. “And I told him ‘It’s 2020, everybody’s going through a tough time – that doesn’t give you an excuse to be stealing people’s stuff.’ ”
Bruin’s tough times soccer-wise began with his June 2019 injury, sidelining him the second half of that regular season as well as the MLS Cup final won by the Sounders over Toronto at home. That championship victory was bittersweet for Bruin; glad for his team delivering in front of a raucous home crowd but disappointed he couldn’t play a role.
This will be his fifth MLS Cup final and he’s yet to win one as an active participant. His first two seasons with Houston in 2011 and 2012, Bruin lost successive championships to the Los Angeles Galaxy before being foiled again in the 2017 final, his first Sounders campaign in a loss at Toronto.
So, he’s anxious to play a bigger role this time. Helping get his team here was a huge start.
“At the end of the day, it’s still a win, it’s still a ring, I still scored some goals at the beginning of the year that contributed to the year as a whole,’’ Bruin said of last year’s title game. “But this year it just feels better because in the moment now I can help the team. I can help them in training, I can help them in the game. I can contribute to the group. As opposed to when you’re injured and just looking in from the outside.’’
It isn’t clear how many of these title shots Bruin has left. He’s only 31, but it’s an older version of that age given the physical punishment his body takes living like he does right in the opposing goalmouth.
Bruin isn’t even guaranteed playing time Saturday, the mid-2018 acquisition of Raul Ruidiaz having limited him mostly to a late role off the bench even before his knee injury. As Bruin neared a spring return from the ACL tear, the 2020 season was halted by the pandemic. He then suffered a tibia injury to the same right leg during an intrasquad game right before MLS resumed play.
It wasn’t until September — 15 months after the ACL injury — that Bruin got back in a game, but was limited to one goal over five starts and 15 appearances. He’s started just nine regular-season games since 2018 and the final 17 minutes he played against Minnesota was his only playoff action in that span.
But what an appearance that was. With the Sounders down 2-0 and only 15 minutes to go before stoppage time, the visiting “Loons’’ made a critical mistake allowing Bruin to be the first player to react to a blocked Ruidiaz shot.
And as he has in scoring 71 career regular-season goals and nine more in the playoffs, Bruin didn’t miss — firing the ball home before Minnesota shot-blocker Michael Boxall had even fully turned back around.
“You get that first one and the momentum starts to shift,’’ he said. “And if you’re leading, you start panicking, trying to hold onto the lead. And then we get the second one, the third one. And they (Minnesota) could feel the momentum switching.’’
Ruidiaz tied things in the 89th minute and then Gustav Svensson won it on a header three minutes into stoppage time. It was one of the greatest comebacks in MLS history but likely doesn’t happen if not for Bruin.
“For me, I don’t think we ever had that feeling of ‘Oh, man we lost this game – it’s over with,’ ” Bruin said. “We just had that mentality that if we were going to go down, we’d go down swinging.’ ”
Just as Bruin keeps doing – whether chasing after porch pirates trying to spoil Christmas, or that elusive first title he can finally play a role in.