It’s fair to say Leo González’s first homecoming match in Rave Green didn’t go quite as planned.
The former Costa Rican international received a red card almost midway through the Sounders’ 2-0 loss to Saprissa during last year’s CONCACAF Champions League group stage, souring the return to his home country and summing up a rough and early tournament exit for Seattle.
But now, as the Sounders carry the lead in Group D into a huge matchup against Costa Rican side Herediano on Wednesday (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer), there’s a new challenge for the defender.
This time it’s more than just a trip home: González has to don the Sounders uniform against the team that gave him his professional break and relied on him for nearly a decade.
“I never really imagined that I’d have the opportunity to play against a team I played [for],” González said. “For me, it’s all about Seattle and we’re here to get the three points, but it does provide extra motivation for me.”
González turned in nine seasons for Herediano of the Costa Rican Primera División from 2000-2008, making 154 appearances. His time with Herediano also saw him earn 60 caps with the Costa Rican national team before signing with Seattle in July of 2009.
Strong on the tackle and exceptionally skilled at nullifying faster opponents, González has seen his role diminish with the emergence of Tyson Wahl but is excited to make his mark in the Champions League. González has started 16 matches in all competitions this season.
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t made some mistakes, and he knows it. He’s picked up five yellow cards in 12 games this season, and he still has fresh memories of the red card he picked up last year against Saprissa for digging his cleats into Saprissa’s Jairo Arrieta on a tackle.
“It’s definitely not what I expected, getting a red card,” González said. “I came out with a lot of energy and I’ll learn from that experience and work hard on Wednesday."
With the disappointment of the 2010 competition mostly behind the club, coach Sigi Schmid can see the humor in González’s sending off.
“We’re trying to make sure he stays on the field and plays more minutes,” Schmid said wryly during a Monday conference call with reporters.
While excited to be back in the country he represented at the 2006 World Cup after nine months away, González let it be known where his loyalties now lie.
“To come back, now I’m representing Seattle,” he said, “We’re here to get the three points.”
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com.