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Ethan Dobbelaere ‘exceeds expectations’ in return to Sounders

It had been seven months since Dobbelaere last played a competitive match.

FC Dallas Communications

TUKWILA — It wasn’t so long ago that Ethan Dobbelaere was the Seattle Sounders’ next up-and-coming prospect. When he signed a first-team contract in June of 2020, he was just 17 years old and coming off some impressive performances for the Tacoma Defiance and various youth national teams.

Two years later, it’s harder to tell what his future may hold. But at least he’s playing again.

Saturday marked the first time in almost seven months that Dobbelaere had played in a competitive match. After transitioning to right wing-back and spending most of 2021 with the Defiance, Dobbelaere was sent on loan the Czechia second-division side MFK Vyškov. He played in one preseason game before breaking his hand and then returning to Seattle to rehab with the Sounders.

The loan was supposed to run through the end of May but was officially called off last week, clearing the way for him to play against FC Dallas. Dobbelaere was solid if unspectacular, connecting his passes and contributing defensively as a right wing-back in the Sounders’ 3-4-2-1

“I’d say he exceeded my expectations,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We’ve played him all over, we haven’t really dialed that in. The kid performed. But there are some things he can improve on.”

Schmetzer pointed to the first FC Dallas goal as one learning opportunity for Dobbelaere, but one where there was plenty of blame to go around to several players. Among those other “coaching points” were the midfield box needing to flatten out a bit, Nouhou having to close down harder and Cristian Roldan filling space a little faster in addition to Dobbelaere’s role.

“He needed to stay connected to [eventual goal-scorer] Jesus Ferreira,” Schmetzer said. “There were probably four different coaching points where we took that goal.”

For his part, Dobbelaere was mostly just glad to be back playing again. He had accepted the loan to Vyškov with the hope that he’d get more opportunities to play at a time when he was likely to be buried on the Sounders’ depth chart and Defiance weren’t yet playing games. He was only there for about six weeks before breaking his hand.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” Dobbelaere told reporters on Monday. “I definitely have a lot to learn. It was a different type of soccer to adjust to, but I was starting to adjust.

“It felt more direct and physical.”

Coaches on the field

The Sounders’ best chance to seize some control of the Dallas match came in the 23rd minute when Léo Chú found himself on a breakaway. After showing off some impressive speed to take advantage of a Dallas misstep, Chú was in on goal only to shoot wide from about 25 yards out. Schmetzer said he’d liked to have seen Chú take another touch and show a bit more composure in the situation, but was pleased to find that Fredy Montero and Jimmy Medranda had already taken it upon themselves to talk to the young Brazilian about the play.

“That’s what I love about this team,” Schmetzer said. “They do a lot of the coaching themselves.”

Eyes on Open Cup

Once kings of the U.S. Open Cup, the Sounders come into Wednesday’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes riding a three-game losing streak that stretches back to the 2017 tournament. While it’s unlikely that many first-choice players will start in that game, Schmetzer takes seriously the idea of getting the Sounders’ mojo back, especially in a stadium where they’ve been particularly dominant. The Sounders have a 21-1-1 all-time record at Starfire Soccer Stadium in the Open Cup.

“The Open Cup is something we’ve traditionally done well in,” Schmetzer said. “We have to understand expectations.”