TUKWILA, Wash. — The official addition of Brad Smith to the Seattle Sounders Wednesday was a tacit acknowledgement of a fact that had plagued the club in 2018—they had never fully addressed the departure of Joevin Jones. The club hopes that the new attacking fullback (or winger, if they choose to play him up a line) can add the lethality up the left flank that helped Seattle in its MLS Cup runs the past two years.
Sporting director Chris Henderson all but admitted as much when asked about what Smith would be expected to provide to the team.
“It’s great to have Brad in,” Henderson said. “He comes with good experience, both national team and premier league. He’s a player who’s excited to be here. He’s got a great engine, getting up and down and taking guys on. We characterize him as an attacking fullback. He plays with joy, he plays with effort. He’s a player the fans will like.”
Smith’s on-field experience is a bit of a misnomer. In five and a half years since signing his first professional contract, the 24-year-old has made just 10 league appearances between Liverpool and Bournemouth. At the same time, he’s amassed 19 senior national team caps with Australia, including a dozen appearances during World Cup qualifying. Still, the young player impressed the coaching staff enough to pursue him as a loan option.
“A left back came into Bournemouth and it was decided that this was the year that I was to go on loan,” Smith said Wednesday. “I spoke to (Bournemouth manager) Eddie Howe and he said he’s happy for me to go on loan this year. My agent was telling me ‘there’s interest,’ and then a few days later he called me and said ‘it’s a bit of a different one, but Seattle are really interested, the manager would like to speak with you.’ Once I spoke to the manager, it was a no brainer.”
“I told him that the Sounders are a great club,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said of their conversation. “That we’ve had a lot of success, that Seattle is beautiful in the summertime. I can’t remember all the words I used but we just spoke openly and honestly. It’s a good bunch of guys. It’s arguably—I only say arguably because there are some people that might disagree with me—but it’s the best franchise in the league. It’s a nice play to come and play.”
The benefit for Schmetzer and the Sounders is greater competition at left back. The coaches have called out Nouhou for inconsistency at times, even prompting a halftime removal in favor of Waylon Francis against Minnesota. Now, Smith’s arrival will have both left backs on notice.
“It makes my job challenging to say the least,” Schmetzer said. “Guys are challenging for positions. I can say on one side of my mouth that that’s a good thing, but on the other side it makes my job much more difficult.
“It’s competition. The guys that are playing well will get the chances. That’s the way it has to be. It’s pro sports. Can’t say it any other way.”
And does he run the risk of having players feel dejected when someone is brought in at their position?
“Yeah, that’s human nature,” Schmetzer said. “They can feel like that, and I’ll address it with them and have an open and honest conversation, and we move on together. The underlying message to all the players that find themselves on the field, off the field, in the 18, out of the 18, is that it’s their team. They’re the ones who do all the hard work daily to have success. That’s the message that I give all of them. I don’t think any player should waste any day. They have great jobs. They get to do the sport they love. They get paid for it. They shouldn’t be complaining. I don’t want them to take any days off because it’s not good for them. Their career has to continue. We’ll deal with it.”
As for who wins the competition for the starting minutes at left back, the games have officially begun.