Leo Gonzalez had a difficult matchup on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids.
The Sounders FC defender would alternately be paired up against rookie Deshorn Brown and veteran Atiba Harris. In Brown, he would meet a speedy 22-year-old that is among the standouts for MLS Rookie of the Year while posting five goals and four assists through his first 20 MLS matches. Harris is quick too, but a bit more physical than Brown. Harris has five goals this season, giving him 22 in his eight-year MLS career.
Against Seattle, though, Brown managed just one shot in 74 minutes of action and completed three of seven passes. Gonzalez harangued him for the entirety of those 74 minutes, making his life difficult each time he pressed up Colorado’s right side.
He went against Harris with less frequency, but the veteran midfielder managed just one shot himself, while completing just 21 of 43 passes.
It was simply the type of match that Gonzalez has the tendency to thrive in, as he excels in those 1v1 matchups.
“Leo is tremendous as a 1v1 defender and he definitely had his hands full with Brown,” said defender Zach Scott, who also had a standout defensive performance with team-highs with eight clearances and five interceptions. “That’s exactly what we expect out of Leo and that’s something we talked about before the game was getting back to what you do well as an individual.”
Gonzalez, 32, is in his fifth MLS season and his 14th as a professional. He has seen time with the Costa Rica National Team to the tune of 61 caps, but hasn’t played internationally since 2009. With Seattle, he has shown an ability to thwart individuals in the attack and on Saturday it was key to limiting the Rapids to just two shots on goal in nine attempts.
“I feel a lot of confidence. Both guys are physical guys, big guys and faster guys,” Gonzalez said. “When you play with focus and concentration, it’s easier to play 1v1 with those guys.”
Gonzalez came to Sounders FC midway through the 2009 season and quickly took the reins as the starting left back. After starting the final 11 matches of the 2009 season, he started in 27 matches in 2010, before splitting time with Tyson Wahl in 2011 and Marc Burch in 2012. This year, he has taken control of the starting role again, with 16 starts in 18 MLS matches for Seattle. In addition, he has also been the club’s all-time leader in CONCACAF Champions League appearances with 20, sharing the lead with Osvaldo Alonso.
On Saturday, he had Burch in front of him as the left-sided midfielder for the second straight match. Gonzalez was able to find success on the attack as well, making a dynamic partnership with Burch up the left side.
Gonzalez completed 39 passes out of 52 attempts, behind only midfielder Osvaldo Alonso for the match. What was more telling was that most of those passes came in the attacking half, including an 89th minute cross that found the head of Eriq Zavaleta and forced goalkeeper Clint Irwin into a last-minute save to preserve the draw.
“When we play together, we understand our jobs a lot,” Gonzalez said. “I had more opportunity to get forward because that was our focus.”
That focus may change as the team gets healthy and players return to their regular roles. But for the time being, that combination works well enough for Seattle and if it is used again on Sunday when Sounders FC hosts Chivas USA, Gonzalez will again have a tough matchup in Eric Avila. If last week was any indication, though, Avila should be ready for a long night at CenturyLink Field.