Unpredictability for the Sounders is at the tip of Kelvin Leerdam’s foot.
The right back is the team’s second-leading goal scorer this season with five. That’s an unexpected spot for a defender who, when paired with forward-turned-winger Jordan Morris, gives the Sounders one of the more formidable right sides in MLS.
Stopping the Sounders’ offense isn’t simply defending their front four. Leerdam and left back Brad Smith, who’s second on the team with five assists, have to be considered.
“It’s modern soccer,” said Sounders assistant coach Djimi Traore, who works with the defenders. “Now, it’s the way we play, and the way we scout our players. When we need a fullback, that’s one of the things we watch. We need people to be a bit more offensive. Then we don’t become predictable.
“When you become predictable, it’s easy for the opponent to defend.”
Leerdam, 29, has always possessed an offensive mind when it comes to soccer. The son of Suriname national team legend Marlon Grando, he has good instincts around the penalty box and scoffs at any marvel of his scoring.
True, Leerdam’s five goals in 19 appearances this season eclipses the one score he had in his previous 41 MLS games with the Sounders. But the Dutchman (Suriname is a former Dutch colony in South America) has had similar seasons with his pro teams in the Netherlands. His former SBV Vitesse team went 5-0-1 in matches in which Leerdam recorded either a goal or an assist.
In fact, it’s a philosophy called “Dutch Total Football,” in which every player on the field could ideally play any position.
“As a kid, when you start playing soccer or basketball — it doesn’t matter what — you try to be important,” said Leerdam, a midseason signing for the Sounders in 2017. “In soccer, it’s with goals and assists. It gives you a good feeling when you can find the back of the net. That’s what everybody dreams of. … It’s a team game and everybody can score.”
Traore is quick to state the backline’s first duty is to defend. The uncanny ability to score as a fullback is a wave popularized by defensive legends such as Roberto Carlos (Brazil) and Daniel Passerella (Argentina). Both former World Cup champions retired with more than 90 goals each in their storied careers.
Currently, fullbacks like Gerard Pique (FC Barcelona), Marcelo Vieira (Real Madrid), and Serigo Ramos (Real Madrid) are some of the best goal scorers at their position.
“(Scoring) is all Kelvin,” Traore said. “His perseverance and being that type of fullback with a very offensive mindset. In the final third, he has that experience to find the goal and doesn’t give up. You have to give him credit for that because he’s been working on that during training and knows that moment is crucial for us.”
The Sounders are 3-1-1 when Leerdam scores. His right-footed goal in stoppage time against Vancouver last month not only extended the Sounders’ unbeaten streak at CenturyLink Field, but was needed veteran leadership for a lineup that had multiple first-time starters, including forward Justin Dhillon.
Morris, who has four goals this season, said he’s embracing his role of right winger more and getting a lift from Leerdam’s talent behind him.
“He’s a great player and really good inside the box,” Morris said. “We’re lucky to have both sides of our outside backs attack really well, Brad getting up the left and Kelvin up the right. Especially (when) playing at home, we can get on top of teams with how many people we put in the attack.”