Analysis: On a day of defenders, Kelvin Leerdam stood up and stole the show

Kelvin Leerdam
PHOTO: Kelvin Leerdam celebrates his game-winning goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Wasson/Seattle Sounders FC.

Editorial (July 1, 2019) — The Seattle Sounders FC celebrated one of the greatest defenders to ever play in MLS this weekend. Chad Marshall retired this season after battling through reoccurring injuries. Saturday marked Marshall’s retirement sending off, as players from the Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps congratulated him.

Marshall is one of the greatest defenders in MLS, so it was a big-time show. However, another defender made his mark on Saturday, too.

On a day of celebrating defenders, Kelvin Leerdam stood up and stole the show.

Leerdam is arguably having one of his best career seasons. His defensive work is second-to-none, despite the Sounders’ recent troubles. While there have been issues at right back, which resulted in the Sounders bringing in Brad Smith from Australia, there’s never been a reason for Leerdam to lose his spot.

On offense, he’s having his best year in a Sounders uniform.

Leerdam came to Seattle in 2017. Previously, he spent his entire career in the Netherlands. Leerdam was born in Suriname, a Dutch territory, but grew up in the Netherlands. When he came to Seattle, he became an instant starter.

Since then, he’s only grown into the system of Brian Schmetzer. He’s been told to attack more, which has resulted in five goals this MLS season. He’s second on the team in most goals scored this season, just one shy of tying his Peruvian teammate Raúl Ruidíaz.

So how, all of a sudden, did Leerdam become a household name in Seattle? Let’s take a look at what happened this weekend and throughout most of the season.

Leerdam isn’t afraid to get in the box

Leerdam found the back of the net in the waning moments of the second half.

“The ball was on the left side,” Leerdam said, after the match. “Brad [Smith] had a combination, I believe with Harry [Shipp]. I don’t know if he tried to shoot or pass, but at least the ball came to me and I turned to the goal and shoot. Simple.”

“Simple” is a great way to describe Leerdam. He doesn’t look for the spotlight. He does his defensive duties and then gets up into the attack when needed. When he’s not scoring goals or holding attackers scoreless, Leerdam has provided two assists for the Sounders. This season, Leerdam leads the team with 16 matches played. Right behind him, tied with 15, is fellow defenders Kim Kee-hee and Brad Smith, and midfielder Cristian Roldan.

Leerdam is honest, too, when it comes to assessing team performance. His goal occurred in the 96th minute against Vancouver. He said that the match wasn’t easy, but there was space to find the back of the net.

“The ball didn’t move quick enough and we didn’t create too many chances,” he said. “They didn’t try to attack, really. They sat back and waited for our mistakes and tried to hit us on a counter. But, in these kinds of games, we need to move the ball quicker. I think that was the main problem.”

“It was a big game”

There’s no doubt about that.

Seattle desperately needed a win after going win-less in the entire month of June. However, the club’s last victory was against Orlando City SC on May 15. The Sounders still remain in a playoff spot, as they sit in third place in the Western Conference. However, they’re looking for more. While it might be harder to catch up to first-place Los Angeles FC, there’s plenty of time to grab second place from the Galaxy.

Leerdam will be key for the Sounders in doing so — not just because of his goal-scoring. He’s a team first kind of guy, who will always look up front for his strikers before going at goal himself.

He has his teammates’ backs, too. Danny Leyva, the 16-year-old Homegrown signing, was close to scoring his first MLS goal, but a controversial decision from VAR ruled the goal back.

After the match, Leerdam said he didn’t know if he could curse. He was that upset about the decision, but elected to just say it was a bad decision from referee Alan Kelly.

“It was a 50/50 ball,” Leerdam said. “Justin tried to shoot, the goalkeeper was there and nothing happened. He had the presence of mind to know the goalkeeper was down, and he chipped it with a lot of spin. It was a beautiful goal and I think he deserved it, but the rules, the rules — stupid rules.”

What’s Next for Leerdam?

Why not add to the goal scoring tally? While Leerdam has a long way to go to reach the MLS Golden Boot, but as long as he helps the team, he is content and happy. He’ll look to add to his season tally when the Sounders take on New York City FC on Wednesday at 7 p.m. EST.

“I’m always happy to score, always happy to help the team out,” Leerdam said. “I want to keep the zero on the scoreboard [for the other team] and give assists.”

PHOTO: Kelvin Leerdam celebrates his game-winning goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Wasson/Seattle Sounders FC.

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