It's been a long and rigorous road back to the field for Seattle Sounders forward Will Bruin, but in Seattle's 3-0 romp over the Portland Timbers on Sunday, the longtime MLS veteran showed the type of impact he can still make in MLS.
Entering as a substitute in the 81st minute with his team leading 1-0, Bruin was all over the place, playing a role in both of Seattle's late insurance goals, first on a flicked header off a long ball from Stefan Frei that deflected off Larrys Mabiala (denying him an assist) into the path of Raul Ruidiaz, allowing the striker to chip home the finish. Then, in the 85th minute, Bruin got a secondary assist after collecting a ball from Nicolas Lodeiro down the left side and finding Ruidiaz, who in turn found a wide-open Kelvin Leerdam for an easy finish.
It was a reminder of what Bruin can bring to an already talented Seattle attack, after he missed much of last season with a torn ACL before a tibia injury also sidelined him for the beginning of the MLS is Back Tournament.
There's also precedent for Ruidiaz and Bruin showcasing some nifty combination play. In Ruidiaz's first match with the club back in 2018 against Minnesota United, the Peruvian flicked a header off a long ball onto the path of Bruin in second-half stoppage time, allowing him to chip home the finish for a dramatic game-winner in a 2-1 victory.
After that match, Schmetzer said he was mulling over a formation look that would get both forwards on the field together, but never wound up deploying it with any week-to-week regularity, with Bruin's season-ending ACL tear early last season denying him a chance to make his case in 2019. But after the fireworks in Portland, Schmetzer said Bruin's got him thinking about it again.
"Look, Will came on and played very well. He's making a case to play with two forwards," Schmetzer said after the match. "I mean, if Will and Raul can play together like that, then we have a really dangerous pair going forward. And they created a couple of good moments, some goals. Will did very well up there as a partner with Raul."
It would be a departure from the norm for Schmetzer, who has been pretty much exclusively wed to a 4-2-3-1 with a lone striker up top since he took over as the head coach in 2016. But in the recently-returned Bruin, the coach suddenly has an X-factor back at his disposal.
The 30-year-old is a proven finisher dating back to his stint with the Houston Dynamo, where he scored 50 goals and his 20 goals in 70 games with Seattle. If his chemistry with Ruidiaz continues on the training ground, it might not be long before he forces Schmetzer's hand for a run in the starting XI.