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Sounder at Heart Defender of the Year: Gustav Svensson

Stefan Frei was ever-so-slightly behind in second.

Kayla Mehring

In one of the most closely contested races in Sounder at Heart voting history, Gustav Svensson took home this year’s Defender of the Year title. Goose got 31.6% of the overall vote in the category, with Stefan Frei sitting closely behind with 31.2%.

In a year that featured a lot of defensive rotation due to injuries, suspensions, and retirement, it was the team’s holding midfielder and goalkeeper whose consistency proved critical across the long regular season. They were there for the team’s highest moments and helped dig them out of their low points.

Also receiving a strong number of votes were Kim Kee-hee (10.7%), Chad Marshall (10.3%), and Kelvin Leerdam (8.5%).

Coming off a strong 2018 that saw the Swedish defender/midfielder appear in a World Cup, Svensson quietly had a stellar 2019 season for the Sounders. Never flashy, but always in the right spot, he was one of the most consistent players, finishing eighth on the team in minutes (2,205). In those minutes, he led the team in tackles per match (2.8), was third in interceptions (1.3 per match), and came behind only Chad Marshall in blocks per 90 minutes (0.7).

Svensson also understood when a hard foul to slow down the game was necessary. He also helped the team transition when the won the ball — leading the team with five long balls per match, and connected nearly 85% of his passes. It’s not a defensive stat, but keeping your opponent off the ball and stretching the field certainly helps lessen the defensive load.

This year was an adjustment for Svensson, in large part because he lost Ozzie Alonso as one of his key midfield partners. Early in the season — even as the team racked up points — Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer pushed Svensson and Cristian Roldan in post-match remarks to do a better job managing the flow of matches. Knowing when to slow things down, knowing when to press or counter. It was a natural transition as Svensson adapted to having two more fluid players in front of him in Roldan and Nico Lodeiro.

We saw what Schmetzer meant when the Sounders started to struggle mid season, and I’d argue that a big reason for their late surge was due to the fact that Roldan and Svensson began to figure out how to bring Schmetzer’s vision to life.

Here’s what Realio had to say about Svensson’s Man of the Match performance in the Sounders’ 1-0 win in October against Minnesota: “The Goose was everywhere. Seven tackles. Three clearances. Eight recoveries. Two shots. Two key passes. Two won aerials. Nearly every pass was forward and probing offensively. He touched the ball 77 times and every one seemed massive, as he continually recovered possession in transition and immediately turned it back into Seattle offense.”

The hero of MLS Cup, it was during the playoffs that the midfielder truly shined. Against LAFC, he was everywhere in the midfield — dropping into the space he knew LAFC wanted to occupy and getting a body on players quickly when they got the ball. Against Toronto, he was just superb.

Readers voting Svensson Defender of the Year isn’t just the result of recency bias, however. He provided a consistent shield to a rotating backline. He constantly put his body on the line for teammates, and it’s easy to argue the Sounders wouldn’t have hoisted the MLS Cup without him.

Just don’t hop into a car with him.

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