Even though Seattle Sounders forward Will Bruin hasn’t started a single league match for the team so far in 2017, he has come off the bench in five of the team’s six games. In those five appearances, he’s scored two goals. The first was a stoppage-time equalizer against Montreal in week 2, and the second was a late consolation last Friday in Vancouver. That’s two goals from 51 minutes of competitive play this season. Not a bad goals-per-minute rate.
But yet, because Bruin’s skill set doesn’t exactly fit head coach Brian Schmetzer’s system, he hasn’t found himself in the starting XI yet. Even though he’s more than just a target striker, there’s no doubt that he fits best in a system that pumps crosses into the box as often as possible. On paper, that’s not what Schmetzer wants to do. Before he took over the club last season, the Sounders were top of the charts in crosses attempted—and bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Regardless, the Sounders have found themselves taking a step backwards at times this season and resorting to a constant stream of mindless crossing—and no end product. Just like last season, they’re near the top of the “attempted crosses” charts (3rd most accurate crosses in MLS, 6th most inaccurate crosses) and the bottom of the standings.
Schmetzer admitted that a crossing-heavy style isn’t his ideal way to play, but that each game has a “life of its own” and that sometimes, a team has to resort to playing a bit ugly when the defense is resisting their plan A. He brought up the stats of the Sounders’ win over New York Red Bulls—in which they only had five open play crosses. When you consider that the Sounders had 30 attempted open play crosses in Vancouver, a match they lost 2-1, it’s not hard to see which style works better. “We had a ton of possession against Vancouver, and they were defending in and around the goal, so where’s the space? Around that [the flanks].”
Crossing heavily wasn’t how he hoped to start the game, said Schmetzer, but he said the team started relying on it when the only space available near goal was on the wings. He intended to bring Bruin into the match earlier than he did—which was already earlier than he had in any other match this season—but Montero’s first goal threw him off and forced him to recalibrate his gameplan. “He was going to come on even earlier, and I had to rethink things for a quick second after Fredy scored. He deserved more minutes, we were trying to score more goals.”
In the end, it was a cross that led to Seattle’s only goal of the match in Vancouver, though it was a far better ball than most of the ones that they had been producing in the match. Nicolas Lodeiro got to the end line and cut a low cross back across the face of goal, where Bruin’s perfectly timed run allowed him to direct it into the goal with his first touch.
Even though he has a broader skill set than a lot of players at his position, Bruin said that his role is clear whenever he gets onto the pitch. “My job is to get in the box and get on the end of crosses.” Whereas the coaching staff might worry about getting the intricacies of the roles of Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris, it sounds like they send Bruin on the field with just that specific direction in mind. The gameplan doesn’t exactly get tossed out the window when the team throws Bruin on the pitch, but their strategy with him out there is clear.
Obviously every professional wants to get on the field as much as possible, and Bruin is no different. But after seven years in MLS, Bruin knows how to make the best of any situation. “You prepare like you’re starting every game, doesn’t matter if you’re playing five or 90 minutes or whatever. You do the same stuff, you eat the same way, you focus the same way.”
That same experience has helped Bruin understand the role of a “supersub” too, namely that making an impact can’t be forced—it’s more like doing a job and doing everything right to make the team work well as a whole.
“I’ve learned throughout my career that if you come off the bench and try too hard, you kind of force things that aren’t there and kind of reading the game and letting it flow naturally.” He said it’s all about doing “the little things” well, like holding up the play, keeping possession, and being in the right place at the right time—like he was when he scored his goal.
Despite their slow start to 2017, Schmetzer still has a lot of faith in his team and his tactics. He points out that in addition to 15 shots and 7 on target in Vancouver, he identified many more “half-chances...where guys are running in on goal and the pass is just a little in front of them, or we couldn’t pick the guy out on the cross.”
He said that he’s pleased with the level of creativity from his team, but admitted that finishing off their many chances would be high on his priority list for this week’s training sessions. He said after the Vancouver game that Bruin’s late-game effectiveness has put him in the discussion for a starting gig; as the only guy who put the ball in the net for Seattle last weekend, that might not be such a bad idea.