It’s not often that a veteran MLS player has a key turning point in his season in January.
For Sounders FC left back Tyson Wahl, though, that was the case.
In 2010, he played the fewest games in his pro career, appearing in just four MLS matches, while Leo Gonzalez took up the bulk of the minutes. Then the Sounders drafted Michael Tetteh with their first pick in the MLS SuperDraft, taking the left back with the 20th overall pick.
“For a couple of days I was wondering what was going on with that, but that’s when I changed my mentality. I tend to overanalyze things and I think being an athlete it helps to not think about some of the details,” Wahl said. “Now I think of that as a turning point. I didn’t know what was going on, so I just tried to control what I could control, day-in and day-out.”
He battled Gonzalez and Tetteh and this year has found himself as the featured left back in MLS play, making 21 starts through 32 matches this season, the most in his six MLS seasons split between Seattle and Kansas City.
In addition, he’s also made two starts in the CONCACAF Champions League and two more for the Sounders in the Reserve League, where they won the Western Division.
The extra matches have kept him in game-shape, even when he hasn’t been able to play in the MLS match on a given week. They’ve also been a marked improvement over the option in previous years, when teams would play their reserves against local colleges to keep them active between appearances.
“That helps. It keeps you in the rhythm of training. Playing against college teams isn’t exactly good enough competition to improve your game as a professional,” Wahl said. “Those games have definitely helped with more opportunities to be on the field and I want to play in as many games as I can.”
With more opportunities, Wahl has shown an increased acumen for the left back position after coming to Seattle as a center back from Kansas City in the 2008 expansion draft. With each passing game, he has grown more and more comfortable as an outside back.
“He’s made good progress. He’s been more consistent. His passing has been very good for us as well,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think Tyson’s really stepped up this year. It took him a while to convert in his mind from a center back’s mentality to an outside back’s mentality, but he’s done well.”
Now with two solid veteran options at left back, Schmid can pick and choose his lineup at the left back spot, depending on matchups. And with three non-league games still remaining on the schedule, he knows that come playoff time, he will have two players ready and able to man the position.
“As a competitor, you always want to play as much as you can. In past years, it’s been about getting over some disappointments and plugging away and staying committed,” Wahl said. “This year I came into it with an open mind, always hopeful that I was going to be able to fight my way into a starting role. I knew it would be a tough task, but this year I’ve worked smarter and more efficient, trying to make the most of every day.”
The Sounders will face the San Jose Earthquakes this week – first in the Reserve League on Monday, then in MLS play on Saturday at CenturyLink Field, where the club has opened expanded seating and has already sold over 53,000 tickets.