Sigi Schmid is not one to toss out superlatives lightly.
So when the Sounders FC head coach called Leo Gonzalez “one of the top left backs in the league” on Wednesday, it wasn’t without merit.
The 32-year-old Costa Rican defender has started 10 MLS matches for Seattle in 2012, and the Sounders are 7-0-3, allowing just five goals while posting six shutouts.
“Leo has just been really solid this year. Last year he was a bit up and down at times. Defensively, he was still strong for us, but offensively, at times he gave the ball away when he really shouldn’t have,” Schmid said. “We’ve talked about that though and I think he’s been very consistent with the ball and very good in his defending. The way he’s playing right now, he’s one of the top left backs in the league.”
Gonzalez came to the Sounders midway through the 2009 season after a standout career with CS Herediano in Costa Rica. The veteran of 61 caps for Costa Rica immediately locked down the left back spot, starting in all 11 of his appearances in 2009 and in 27 matches in 2010.
In 2011, he gave way to Tyson Wahl for much of the season, but came back strong this year, only to have a quad strain leave him on the sideline for eight matches.
When Gonzalez hasn’t been in the lineup, Marc Burch has been a more than suitable left back for Seattle as well. The versatility of the two gives Schmid the option to use either one, depending on form, matchup and balancing a busy schedule and has elevated the play of both players this year for the Sounders.
“Marc’s doing well too. It’s a great competition between the two of them,” Schmid said. “We’re very confident with both of those guys and those guys are going to be important for us all the way through. You need that kind of depth.”
Now healthy and fit for regular selection, Gonzalez has started five of the last six matches with the Sounders, having continued success in those fixtures.
That success – both personal and for the team – has brought more poise on the field for Gonzalez.
“That makes me feel really confident and that probably generates some confidence in the team. We come out every game and try and do our best and we’ve been having some great games,” Gonzalez said. “It’s been a great season. We’ve had some great players come in and they’ve added a lot to our team. Our objective is always to finish in the best position possible, hopefully this year winning the MLS.”
That confidence has never been more apparent than in recent victories over the LA Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps FC – both of whom are strong playoff contenders in the Western Conference.
Against LA, he was a force with seven interceptions, limiting the Galaxy’s attacking options up their right side. When Vancouver visited Seattle, he was less of a statistical nuisance as he was a general nightmare for the Whitecaps.
It’s no wonder Schmid and the Sounders have so much confidence in their left back.
“We were talking about it the other day and we were saying, ‘How many left backs are there in this league would we take in front of Leo?’ There’s not many that we can think of,” Schmid said. “He’s been very solid and very committed.”
The Sounders host Chivas USA on Saturday – the only team to score multiple goals against the Sounders with Gonzalez in the starting lineup. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 pm Pacific, with television coverage on KONG 6/16 and the radio broadcast on 97.3 KIRO FM.