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João Paulo knows he’s not been at his best, vows to improve

Midfielder has been somewhat limited due to injury.

Last Updated
3 min read

RENTON — João Paulo is quite possibly his own biggest critic. The Brazilian midfielder holds himself to a high standard and when he’s not meeting it, he is quite aware.

Right now, he’s not entirely satisfied with his play.

“I’ve always been hard on myself,” he said following Tuesday’s training session. “I know when I’m not at my best. I know this is not my best season, not my best moment. But even when I’m not at my best, I’m doing everything I can to help the team win games. I’ll do whatever the team needs and I hope to be back to my level. No one wants more than me to play well. I’m training hard, I’m doing everything I can to get back to that level.”

Complicating João Paulo’s situation is a chronic hip injury he’s been dealing with for at least a year. The 33-year-old has been limited to just eight starts and has only played as many as 80 minutes in a game twice this year. He has, however, made five straight starts in league games, with three of those coming on short rest.

“Some moments of the season when you have a stretch of games like this, you just go to automatic because it’s hard to recover,” he said, noting he was appreciative of the recent four-day weekend that he used to take his family to California. “The last game a lot of guys felt tired after the short days from St. Louis. But that’s part of soccer. You need to be prepared for those moments. It’s not an excuse not to perform.”

Over the last two seasons, the Sounders have also asked João Paulo to play a slightly different role than he was prior to his ACL injury in 2022. Once a key element of the attack, he is now asked to serve as more of a shield for the backline and let his younger partner — usually Obed Vargas or Josh Atencio — do most of the running.

“It’s different but that’s part of a soccer team,” he said. “We need to adjust, perform in our positions. I think more than the personal, it’s what we’re doing collectively. We need to be better as a team, with ideas, what do we do when we lose the ball. We need to better in all the phases. We had a good conversation about that this week. Sometimes the results aren’t the way you want but we need to perform better.”

Pineda unlikely to return

Gonzalo Pineda was fired by Atlanta United on Monday, following a 3-2 loss to Charlotte FC that left them with 16 points through 16 games and just one win in their last 11.

Pineda has often cited Brian Schmetzer as one of his mentors, having started his coaching career as an assistant with the Sounders in 2017. Schmetzer said he was “sad” and “disappointed” in the situation, but was very bullish on Pineda’s future.

“Gonzo is a great coach, he did a great job for us when he here and deservedly got that opportunity,” Schmetzer said. “I can’t comment on what happened since I wasn’t there, but I know he’s going to be a successful coach.”

Schmetzer threw some cold water on a potential return to the Sounders, though.

“I have a great staff, too,” he said. “There’s no room now. If someone moves on, and Gonzo doesn’t have a job — which I think is unrealistic — then of course. He’s going to get another job here or somewhere else.”

A familiar face

Antonio Herrera, the Tacoma Defiance midfielder on loan to Chivas U23s, paid a visit to some of his former teammates on Tuesday. The 19-year-old was in town for Chivas’ match against Ballard FC, to be played later that day at Memorial Stadium.