Will Bruin’s eagerness to play this season — and energy on the field — could force Sounders FC coach Brian Schmetzer to change the club’s starting formation.
Seattle typically takes the field with a lineup that features one forward in Raul Ruidiaz. Bruin, a reserve who returned in July after suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2019, would like to make that two strikers up top, including himself.
Bruin’s pitch is a matter of replaying the Sounders’ matches this season. In 27 total minutes playing alongside Ruidiaz, each has scored a goal and tallied an assist, Bruin playing a part in a score and assist for Ruidiaz.
“I’m playing well enough where I deserve to be getting more minutes,” Bruin said via a phone interview Tuesday. “If (Schmetzer) decides that he wants to go two forwards, then that’s something I’m sure we’ll work on in training before we throw it out there but I feel like I’m playing some of the best soccer in my career and honestly I feel like a late-bloomer, per se.”
Bruin, 30, likely will see more minutes given Major League Soccer’s format in its return to regular-season action amid the pandemic. The Sounders will play six matches in a span of 19 days to start. More matches are expected to be announced.
Seattle (3-1-2) drubbed the Portland Timbers 3-0 at Providence Park on Sunday and will travel to play the Los Angeles Galaxy (1-3-2) at Dignity Health Sports Park on Wednesday. Of the first-choice players, only center back Xavier Arreaga (quad strain) and midfielder Jordy Delem (hamstring strain) are unavailable for selection.
“We haven’t trained a bunch in a two-forward set,” Schmetzer said via a phone interview. “But if we did some different formations that (two forwards) is a pretty standard formation throughout the world and our guys would know how to play it. … I never promise players playing time, but Will deserves more playing time and we’ll just see how that works.”
Schmetzer’s own intrigue is Bruin being able to make an impact when he enters a match, despite long layoffs between the games.
Bruin’s 2020 debut was delayed due to a minor knee injury suffered during training after fully recovering from the ACL tear. He entered as a substitute against LAFC in the MLS is Back tournament in Florida, scoring a goal in the 75th minute of the Round of 16 game. The goal doesn’t count toward MLS stats, however.
The Sounders had a month-long layoff after that July 27 game before playing the Timbers on Sunday. Bruin entered in the 81st minute and his header pass helped Ruidiaz score a brace in the 83rd minute, although Bruin wasn’t credited for the assist. In the 85th minute, Bruin sent a left-footed pass to Ruidiaz, who spun to serve Kelvin Leerdam for the score, Bruin earning that assist.
“(Will) gives us a completely different dimension,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said via a video conference call with media members after the victory Sunday. “He has a strong body that can battle and had a couple really soft touches for a big guy. That caught (Portland) off-guard because we haven’t had that in a while.”
Bruin, who was signed in 2016, started four of his nine matches in 2019 before suffering the knee injury. MLS shutting down its season in March due to the pandemic allowed him more time to heal before the May return to training. But another injury put Bruin out another three weeks.
“It’s been a lot to handle,” Bruin said. “I’d be lying if I said there weren’t down days where I was just really angry and frustrated. But that’s all part of the whole process. … I feel like a different player, more dynamic and all-around better player. It’s showing on the field and I’m just enjoying it.”
Schmetzer also is being mindful about playing time because of the conditions his club is facing. Part of the league’s protocol to guard against the spread of COVID-19 is limiting the amount of time a team spends outside its home market.
The Sounders will travel by chartered flight Wednesday morning to Los Angeles for the 8 p.m. kickoff and leave shortly after postgame interviews. The club will rest at an area hotel after arrival.
The Galaxy is entering the match after a road victory, but against rival Los Angeles FC at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Fans were not permitted and will also not be part of the atmosphere Wednesday.
“For me, it’s better to be playing in stadiums regardless of not having fans,” Bruin said. “Travel is different, but being in the hotel, having pregame meal-prep, going to a stadium and being in a big, normal locker room is just a more normal feel. … It’s not the same without the fans but (Florida) felt like a preseason summer camp.”
— The Sounders unveiled a formal social justice initiative entitled “We Are All Sounders” that focuses on four areas for change in fighting racism, defending the right to play, standing for LGBTQ+ equality and protecting the planet, according to a news release.
As previously discussed by midfielder Cristian Roldan, the son of immigrants, voting is a core issue for 2020 and future elections. “We Are All Sounders” adds completing census forms to the push. Those interested can visit SoundersFC.com/Vote for more information.
— Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela is likely to be sidelined for at least a few weeks by a left knee injury. LAFC coach Bob Bradley said Tuesday that the reigning MLS MVP has a Grade 2 sprain of his medial collateral ligament. Bradley gave no timetable for Vela’s return, but such injuries typically require a minimum of three weeks of rest and rehabilitation.