TORONTO – He didn’t arrive in Seattle with much fanfare, but few Sounders players have contributed more to the club’s Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoff run than striker Will Bruin.
Acquired from Houston in a relatively unheralded trade last December, Bruin has excelled as the lone striker in Seattle’s 4-2-3-1 formation this postseason. He has two goals and two assists in four playoff games, scoring both of his goals and recording one of his helpers against his former team in the Western Conference Championship.
Going back to the final two games of the regular season, Bruin has five goals and two assists in his last six matches, his best personal run since he had six goals and one assist in a five-game stretch in 2015. His play has been varied, with Bruin holding the ball up effectively as a target striker, using some flashy passing to combine well with his teammates and scoring a couple of excellent goals.
He’ll look to stay hot on Saturday as Seattle gun for their second straight MLS Cup title at Toronto FC (4 pm ET | ESPN and UniMás in USA; TSN and TVAS in Canada).
“If you watch our last game, and I re-watched it on ESPN 3, I think [ESPN’s] Taylor Twellman kept saying ‘He’s a target forward, he needs to stick to the simple things,’ and the deft pass that he gives to Victor [Rodriguez] on the opening goal and then the chip that he seals the deal with the third goal, it shows that he has multiple aspects to his game,” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “I think the other thing is it shows that he’s full of confidence right now and, as we know, strikers they live off that confidence. So that bodes really well for us.”
Saturday’s match will be the third MLS Cup appearance of Bruin’s seven-year career. He lost the final twice with Houston in his first two years in the league, falling at LA in 2011 and 2012. He’ll draw on both of those experiences against Toronto on Saturday, but said the losses with Houston aren’t making him feel any additional pressure to win with Seattle.
“We’re just a little bit more focused, a little bit more prepared and I think it’s those little margins that will help,” he said. “But for me, it’s another game.”
TFC will throw a bit of a different look at Bruin than he’s seen this postseason. The Reds don’t play with the standard four-man backline that Houston and Vancouver used against Seattle in the playoffs, instead opting for a three-man setup with a pair of wingbacks. Bruin usually likes to operate between the two center backs in a four-man backline, so he’ll have to adjust at BMO. He said he’ll look for space between the three center backs and in between their line and defensive midfielder Michael Bradley.
He’ll also play a big role in Seattle’s defensive effort. He’s the first line of the Sounders’ pressure, and will be responsible for harrying Toronto’s defenders and Bradley while they’re on the ball, giving his teammates time to find their shape behind him.
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer made sure to note Bruin’s defensive work on Wednesday, heaping praise on the striker when asked about the key to the Sounders’ current six-game shutout streak.
“Will Bruin has been on a really good run of form,” Schmetzer said. “He’s scoring goals; you guys saw the goals he scored against Houston with the header and then getting in on the goalkeeper, but what you guys might not see is some of the details that he does with being the first guy in our line of defense.
“Will does a lot of the dirty work to help the team so the players behind him can get ready and defend in whatever team shape they need. It’s a team function. There’s not one thing, but I think all the players believe that defense helps win championships, and then he goes out and he scores goals too.”
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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!