TUKWILA, Wash. – It might seem like a long time ago now, but there was a time this season when the Seattle Sounders quite literally didn’t have a right back.
Brad Evans was supposed to be the answer following the departure of last year’s starter, Tyrone Mears, but injuries kept the veteran off the field for most of 2017. Third-year man Oniel Fisher had played the position in the past, but is a left back by trade and was far from a proven commodity as a week-to-week MLS starter.
The situation led to a revolving door at the position that saw Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer even have to resort to plugging in Gustav Svensson, a defensive midfielder and occasional center back.
Enter Kelvin Leerdam, the Dutch signee brought in by Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey in July to take over the starting role. The 27-year-old has done just that, becoming one of the team’s most reliable contributors at what was once its least stable position.
“I think it’s the personal feeling I had when [the Sounders] approached me,” Leerdam told MLSsoccer.com of his courtship with the Sounders. “They gave me a really good feeling, a feeling that they wanted me here. It was still not an easy option, everybody has high [opinions] of the teams in Europe, so it was a difficult option to choose.
“In the end, I ran through my personal feelings and I had a good feeling about it. That’s what I came here.”
Leerdam’s Sounders career got off an inauspicious start. Schmetzer penciled him into the 18 for the first time in Seattle’s match against D.C. United at CenturyLink Field on July 19, a game that saw the Sounders’ backline get torched in the first half and fall behind 3-0.
Leerdam subbed on in the 54th minute, shortly after Sounders forward Will Bruin scored to cut the deficit to 3-1. The impact was virtually instantaneous and the Sounders didn’t give up a goal the rest of the way, scored three more of their own and went on to win 4-3, making them the first team in MLS history to come back from a three-goal deficit and win in regulation.
“That particular it game, it was like, ‘What is going on?’ I had seen them play some games, I watched them over in the Netherlands so I know what they were capable of,” Leerdam said. “But that game was not a good show of what the team is capable of. But after the game, we made history, that’s what counts. Everybody will remember that game for a long time, that’s what counts in the end.”
Leerdam is still a relatively young player at 27, but he brought plenty of pedigree with him to Seattle. He spent nine seasons in the Eredivisie, the Netherlands’ top flight, where he most recently played with Vitesse – one of the league’s top clubs.
It was his standout play there that drew Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson and the team’s scouting department to him in the first place. Given where he’s at in his career, Leerdam said the transition to MLS has been a smooth one – something that has manifested itself in how he’s played on the field.
“I’m at the right age,” Leerdam said. “ Maybe if I was younger it would be more difficult but I’ve seen so many things already in my life, I’ve played for a very big team in the Netherlands. So, those kinds of things make it a lot easier to adapt to a new situation.”
Leerdam and the Sounders defense now have their toughest test yet in front of them as they get set to take on Toronto FC in Saturday’s 2017 MLS Cup at BMO Field (4 pm ET | ESPN, UniMás; TSN, TVAS). If Seattle are to grab a repeat championship, Seattle will need to continue their run of lockdown defensive play that seen them hold their opponents off the scoresheet through the entirety of the 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
As for what comes after that, Leerdam says that his hope is that he’ll be the one manning the right fullback position in Seattle for the foreseeable future.
“I like the city, personally. It’s a great nature, a great city, it’s not too busy like what I heard about New York and things like that,” Leerdam said. “I think these are the most important things. I hope that I can stay here for a while. You never know how it’s going to go in the future but my feelings are good right now.”
ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: The 2017 MLS season comes down to this... Seattle vs. Toronto, an MLS Cup rematch that might just be the best final of all-time, depending on who you ask. Will the Sounders repeat? Will the Reds lay claim the best season of all-time? David Gass and Sam Stejskal get things started from the Six, and Andrew and Matt finish things off from the Green Room back in NYC. Subscribe so you never miss a show! Download this episode!