TUKWILA, Wash. — Brad Smith knew right away that something was wrong. It was six minutes into Australia’s second-leg playoff against Syria in the AFC World Cup Qualifier playoff round; Australia was down a goal and Smith was down on the ground.
Minutes before Syria’s game-opening stunner off a careless giveaway by midfielder Mark Milligan, Smith had swung a long cross just over the goal line and had come away pinching his left thigh and grimacing. Just after the goal, when Smith opened his hips to chase after his first touch, he collapsed.
“I’ve had enough injuries to know when something’s bad and when something’s going to be okay,” Smith told Sounder at Heart. “I knew straight away in the Syria game.”
As the referee motioned for the trainers to come on, Smith slammed the ground in frustration, eventually replaced by Aaron Mooy in the 11th minute.
Australia went on to beat Syria, 2-1 in extra time and powered past Honduras, 3-1 on aggregate in the inter-conference playoff to book their spot in the 2018 World Cup. But Smith would take no part in the Russian adventure. The injury kept him out of the picture for AFC Bournemouth for 20 matches and the 24-year-old was excluded from the Socceroos’ 23-man World Cup roster.
“I think I’d played through all of the qualification,” Smith said. “I loved every minute of that. To go on and miss the World Cup was devastating for me, personally. I love representing my country. That is the biggest stage that you want to go to and it hurt me not to go, but at the same time I understood why I didn’t go because I wasn’t playing football.”
When the opportunity came to go on loan during the summer transfer window, Smith was offered a chance to come play in America.
“It was very strange,” Smith said. “(My agent) said ‘it’s a strange one I’ve got for you.’ It’s a different market to me. I think it’s a different challenge to come to a league where you don’t know much about the league. A lot of bigger players are coming now. I’d just had a baby, as well, that was kind of the biggest factor of coming over or not because my partner just gave birth. It was deciding whether we’d move away, he was only four weeks old when we moved over. We’re happy and my little boy is great. He’s enjoying it and so am I.”
Smith’s play on the field has been a boon for Seattle, despite only having played in three matches. The fullback’s speed and creativity were enough to create two goals for the Sounders against Sporting Kansas City; the first on an inch-perfect cross to Raúl Ruidíaz at the back post, and the second on a cross that struck defender Ike Opara’s arm to draw a penalty kick in the second half.
The Australian defender is happy to be back on the field after his struggles with the injury and playing time in the Premier League last season.
“For me, I’m focusing on playing football because I haven’t played enough football in my career,” said Smith, who still has fewer than 70 senior appearances for club and country. “I’ve been in some big clubs and I’ve played in some big games, especially at Liverpool, but I need to play games and to help the team do well in this season and next season as well.
“You want to come into a team that’s doing well. It’s great to be a part of history. It’s an eight-game winning streak and I think we can keep going. We’re in a great form of confidence as well. I think that the team can go as far as we want to go. It’s a good team, good coaching staff, so I’m glad to be a part of it and we’ll see where it goes from here.”
Smith hopes that stellar play and consistent minutes in the league will further his development and provide a road back to the national team, like it has for Swedish teammate Gustav Svensson.
“I’m here, I’m playing regularly and I’m really enjoying it,” Smith said. “If the Australia stuff comes back around for the Asia Cup I’d be delighted to be a part of it again.”