Before MLS Week 29, the Seattle Sounders had already scored plenty of potential AT&T Goal of the Year candidates in 2021.
Jimmy Medranda’s left-footed volley against Portland? Raul Ruidiaz’s long-range chip at Austin FC? Ruidiaz’s deft curler vs. FC Dallas? The Brazilian midfielder’s effort falls into the same category, according to Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer.
“JP’s goal was right there with them because of his mentality, his grit, his determination, his willingness to just – against all odds – make a play,” Schmetzer said. “That was such an important goal for us. I mean, that was grit. I’m actually speechless. I can’t finish my sentence so I apologize, but that was a great goal.”
Joao Paulo’s goal arrived in the first minute of first-half stoppage time, punctuating a dominant first half between two teams vying for the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed – and the resulting Round One bye – in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.
He collected the ball in his own half, nutmegged center back Danny Wilson, zoomed into the penalty area, beat two more defenders and slid his shot under goalkeeper Clint Irwin's legs, putting enough juice on it to evade Lalas Abubakar’s last-ditch clearance attempt. The 30-year-old, as he said postgame, seized what was in front of him.
“I was continuing that run, feeling that I didn’t have the pressure,” Joao Paulo said via a translator. “So I kept going maybe because the other players know me that I’m the type of player that passes or approaches and probably thought it was unlikely for me to go that way. But I kept going, kept progressing, got near the box and completed the play. So if it wasn’t my most beautiful goal, it was certainly one of the most beautiful ones.”
Joao Paulo also recorded an assist, giving him 3g/9a on the year. He’s one of Seattle’s three Designated Players and is in his second year with the club, having spent 2020 on loan from Botafogo before completing a permanent transfer last January.
Over the past two seasons, Cristian Roldan has quickly learned Joao Paulo’s best quality may be his physicality. But there’s more to his game than being a ball-winner and distributor.
“I joke around with Joao because he uses his body so well and he’s faster than he looks and with the ball, with the way he uses his body, it’s really difficult to get the ball off of him,” Roldan said. “So I expected, honestly, all that. But to have the composure to cut to his left and then score the goal, that just shows how much talent he has. Joao is a spectacular player, he has great form and he does so many things right that it’s hard to put into words what you just saw.”
Schmetzer referenced the same qualities, reinforcing how highly he regards Joao Paulo’s effort and what he brings to the club.
“I watched it like eight times in my office just now,” Schmetzer said post-game. “I mean, he’s one against four, he dribbles down the field. Some people don’t think JP’s fast, but he ran past four of their players and then he had the savvy at the last minute to cut the ball back against the last guy with his left foot in the [box] and you see Abubakar, who’s a good player, trying to save the ball off the line and the ball goes in. What a tremendous goal that was.”