Kovar takes advantage of given opportunity, shines in Sounders win over PSA Elite

Wednesday was a big day for Sounders FC as it got back on the winning side of the ledger in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 5-0 trouncing of California amateur club PSA Elite.

It may have been a bigger occasion for Aaron Kovar, as the 20-year-old rookie from Seattle made his competitive debut for Sounders FC and was among the key contributors in a runaway fourth round win.

"I thought he played well. He got into the flow of the game," Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. "It was a good opportunity for him and he stepped up and rose to the occasion."

Kovar earned a penalty in the 22nd minute when he took his defender on 1v1, beat him into the box up the left side, then was taken down by a second defender. Brad Evans converted the spot kick for the 1-0 lead. Later in the 40th minute, Kovar sent one of his 10 corner kicks into the box and found Zach Scott for a headed goal as Seattle took a 2-0 lead, eventually storming to the 5-0 final.

"I was just glad to help the team out today, whether it was crossing or trying to get in on set pieces," Kovar said. "It's not very hard to hit corners when you have guys like Zach and Cam (Weaver) and Kenny Cooper. Those are big targets and I just put it in area where they can get to it."

Kovar played two standout seasons for Stanford University, earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors in his first year and was Honorable Mention All Pac-12 as a sophomore. However, he has been limited to reserve team action with Sounders FC, only finding himself in the 18-man gameday lineup once in the first 15 matches of the season.

However, he has made progress while making the adjustment to the professional level. In five Reserve League matches, he has two assists, mostly while playing left back as opposed to his regular midfield position. Last week he went on loan to the Orange County Blues and played two matches for the USL Pro club, getting his first professional experience.

With those matches in his back pocket, he was poised and driven while starting on the left side of midfield on Wednesday.

"It's an adjustment, but you just have to realize that you're part of a team. In this team, you can't really complain. We've done so well, the first team is winning and we're in first place. I feel really blessed to be a part of that," he said. "I know my time will come, but I have to be more patient than if I was at other clubs because we have so many good players from top to bottom on this team. There's just so much talent and that makes it a better training environment, so I feel like even if I'm not getting many games, I'm getting a lot better every day."

After the match, Schmid compared his progress to Dylan Remick. The left back was Seattle's second round pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft and only saw time in one MLS match in his rookie season while playing behind Leo Gonzalez and Marc Burch. Having those veteran defenders on the roster meant limited opportunities in that role, even with the reserves, yet Remick still worked hard and advanced with each week of training.

Now this season, Schmid has shown the confidence to start Remick in six matches at left back when Gonzalez has missed time to injuries.

Similarly, Kovar is playing behind a deep Seattle midfield that features the likes of Marco Pappa, Lamar Neagle and Brad Evans, and has seen Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett start in wide roles too.

"I think he's made great strides playing with the reserve guys and he'll continue to build," Schmid said. "He's got Marco Pappa in front of him, so it's difficult, but he's can play with the same sort of skillset as Marco plays and he's a guy that will continue to get minutes as we move forward."

He is gaining the confidence of his teammates, too, as he continues his progress in Rave Green.

"That's the biggest thing you want to see from the young guys is the consistency of play," Scott said. "Once he starts to get confident, you get a level of good play. He never plays poorly anymore. You get good play and then you get those brilliant games and I think today was one of those brilliant games."

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