Benzet tight shot Sounders

TUKWILA, Wash. – When the Seattle Sounders acquired Nicolas Benezet from the Colorado Rapids via trade back on Aug. 5, it wasn’t necessarily the splashiest of moves.

The 30-year-old Frenchman had fallen out of head coach Robin Fraser’s rotation at high-flying Colorado, logging just one start and 284 MLS minutes. Prior to that, he began his MLS career with Toronto FC and helped key their run to MLS Cup in 2019, but still only played in eight league matches overall.

Sometimes a fresh start is all you need, an adage that has proven true for Seattle since Benezet’s midseason arrival as an attacking reinforcement. Following his goal in Seattle’s 4-1 blowout victory over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Oct. 9, Benezet now has three goals and an assist across all competitions while becoming a regular rotation piece for the Western Conference leaders.

To hear Benezet tell it, he just needed a chance.

“I was happy, to be honest, because Seattle is one of the best teams in the league and when I got the answer from Colorado to say I could go, I said ‘Ok, let’s do it,'” Benezet told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday’s training session at Starfire Sports Complex. “I need to play, I need to be happier because I wasn’t happy in Denver. I wasn’t enjoying the time there, especially on the field. I didn’t play a lot. I’m so glad to be here, I think it was the best team for me.”

Being the new guy joining a team midseason is never easy, but it can be especially challenging at a club like Seattle that already has big-name, established players throughout the roster. The competition for minutes is fierce, and there’s always a balancing act of trying to make your mark without stepping on anyone’s toes.

Benezet said that’s where his experience comes in, having already embarked on a fairly nomadic career between his time playing in France and now integrating into his third MLS team.

“It’s difficult. It’s not the first, it’s not going to be the last time I do this, so I know what I’m doing,” he said. “I know what [head coach Brian] Schmetzer wants to do with me. So I hope to do that job for now and I’m going to keep doing this and do my best to finish well.”

Beyond on-field production, Benezet’s personality off the field has endeared him to Sounders fans perhaps as much as any midseason acquisition in recent memory.

Chemistry and vibes are crucial components of any successful team, and Benezet has provided a boost in both of those departments. He’s present on social media, interacting with fans and the team’s official account, where he frequently replies with memes and GIFs.

“He’s a great soccer player,” Schmetzer said after the win over Whitecaps. “And he’s great on social media.”

Also a noted anime fan, Benezet celebrated his first Sounders goal just minutes into his debut during Seattle’s 6-2 road blowout of the Portland Timbers on Aug. 15 by striking a pose from the popular show “One Piece.” His celebration against the Whitecaps was equally memorable, with Benezet becoming the first player in club history to get Schmetzer to use the term “twerking” at his post-match press conference.

Getting embraced by the city and fan base that quickly has paid dividends on the field, Benezet said.

“Seattle is like in Europe, they live for football,” Benezet said. “I feel like it’s like in Europe when I was playing in France, everybody was watching, everybody lives for it. Since I came here I feel the same feeling, so I’m so happy to find a club like this.”

With the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs looming and Seattle still atop the West table, Benezet said he’s squarely focused on taking care of some unfinished business, namely winning a title that eluded him in 2019 with Toronto when the Reds fell short against Seattle at Lumen Field.

“After [the MLS Cup loss] I didn’t know what was going to happen with me but one thing I knew is that I wanted to win this trophy before I leave,” Benezet said. “So that’s my goal and I hope we’re going to do the job with Seattle.”

On Wednesday evening, Benezet will face the team that let him go when the Sounders meet the Rapids in a matchup with a fellow Western Conference frontrunner at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (9 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). It raises the question of whether Benezet would celebrate a potential goal at his former stomping grounds, or follow the protocol some players adhere to of a more muted reaction against ex-employers.

Asked exactly that, Benezet didn’t hesitate.

“I would celebrate for sure,” he said. “I can’t wait to play in that stadium in front of my ex-fans and in front of the guy who didn’t believe in me. So, I can’t wait.”