Throughout the year, Sigi Schmid has used the versatility and desire of Sounders FC players to put together a lineup with players unavailable. That ingenuity has kept those short-term transitions as seamless as possible, while also building the confidence of the team as players fill roles that sometimes may fall just outside of their comfort zone.
Last week, Jalil Anibaba was the one asked to play a different role with Leo Gonzalez and Dylan Remick working their way back from injuries. The fourth year defender popped over to start at left back for the first time in his professional career for the two matches against Portland, allowing just one goal over 210 minutes of play. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Anibaba can be counted among those that have made smooth transitions to new positions when needed.
“He’s a team guy and whatever you ask him to do, he’s going to step up and do. He’s going to try and play the position the best way he can,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “We also felt his defensive ability was good to have on the field, especially against Portland, and I thought he did a pretty good job that way as well.”
Anibaba played 96 matches over three seasons with the Chicago Fire before coming to Seattle. However, they all came as a right back or a center back. In utilizing his defensive capabilities and his seemingly ambidextrous use of his feet, he made the move to left back with ease, even against the second-ranked scoring team in MLS.
“He did great. It’s a testament to him that he can come in anywhere on the back line and do the job,” said fellow defender Chad Marshall. “He works hard in training every day and he’s a good dude—a good locker room guy. I’m happy for him.”
However, Anibaba doesn’t claim there is a vast leap between the right and left sides of a defensive formation.
“To be fair, it’s not that much different. It’s just a matter of doing my best to help the team get results,” Anibaba said. “That’s all it’s been about in the last couple of games.”
Anibaba has started six of the last seven matches for Seattle, with Sounders FC allowing just five goals in that stretch. With players easing their way back into fitness for a stretch of eight matches in 34 days between July 28 and August 30, Anibaba may not be etched in the starting lineup each week for Seattle.
However, if there is anything the last two months has shown, it’s that Schmid and the Sounders can trust Anibaba to make a statement in any defensive role.