In any sport, the best players make the difficult things look easy. You can’t do the spectacular without doing the simple things perfectly.
In the 46th minute of the Seattle Sounders’ 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, midfielder João Paulo did just that. After the Vancouver defense cleared a dangerous cross from Cristian Roldan, João Paulo reacted quickly to the loose ball, and in one fluid motion set himself up for a shot that ultimately fired its way into the far corner of the net.
“He makes it look easy,” Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said of his Brazilian Designated Player. “For a lot of you guys out there, and I’m going to talk directly to my academy players, the young players that we have here at the Seattle Sounders, if you really look at the concentration and the simplicity of that movement, the ball comes to him, his first touch is so perfect for him to set himself up to strike the ball cleanly in that moment.
“It’s such a simple goal, but that’s the thing that young players are lacking,” he continued. “That is what young players have to strive for. In that moment, that was nothing more than a simple soccer move that João Paulo makes look easy.”
In a way, João Paulo’s goal was a microcosm of him as a player and a true demonstration of his soccer ethos. Everything runs through him. He’s the quiet engine of the Sounders machine.
“João is a tactically excellent player who solves problems on the pitch, while his passing and set-piece service will help us be even more goal dangerous,” said Sounders Sporting Director and VP of Soccer Chris Henderson when Seattle signed João Paulo in the offseason.
João Paulo has two goals and four assists in 11 MLS matches — he also scored twice more in two CONCACAF Champions League fixtures — and he’s the catalyst that has the Sounders tied for first in MLS in goals scored with 32 through just 14 games. It took Seattle 21 matches to score 32 goals last season. João Paulo’s control over the center of the park frees up Nicolás Lodeiro to stay higher up the pitch and focus on orchestrating the attack, which has benefited both Jordan Morris, who’s second in MLS in goal contributions (7g/7a), and Raúl Ruidíaz, who’s tied for second in the Golden Boot race with nine tallies.
Just take a look at João Paulo’s chart from Saturday night. He had 108 touches and completed 80 of 90 passes, while adding two tackles, three interceptions and nine recoveries defensively.
The Sounders were not their usual selves at the MLS is Back tournament, and one of the reasons why is that João Paulo was out with an injury. Since then, Seattle is 6-2-1 and just four points off the Supporters’ Shield lead with a match in hand.
Lodeiro, Morris and Ruidíaz are all rightfully MLS MVP candidates. But João Paulo might just be the most valuable of them all.