Ethan Dobbelaere’s first MLS start for Sounders FC on Wednesday night was years in the making.
Dobbelaere, 17, joined the Rave Green from youth partner club Seattle United when he was 11 years old. Six years and a host of international trophies at the youth level later, the local kid made his full debut for his hometown club.
“It was super exciting,” said Dobbelaere. “I found out [the night before the game], tried not to think about it too much so I could get some sleep. It kind of hit me right before warmups.”
An avid Sounders fan growing up, it was a surreal moment as Dobbelaere was thrust into the limelight for a crucial fixture with the Sounders pushing for the top spot in the Western Conference. Playing alongside established veterans like Nicolás Lodeiro, Gustav Svensson and Raúl Ruidíaz, the 17-year-old Homegrown acquitted himself well.
“Once I got out on the field, I started to feel like I was fitting in,” added Dobbelaere. “It was fun to just get out there and play. I wish we could’ve gotten a couple of goals while I was in, but it was a really fun experience.”
Known an as a technical, energetic midfielder in the club’s development system, Dobbelaere certainly made an impact just minutes into his full debut.
Dobbelaere nearly drew a penalty kick in the 9th minute when he dribbled inside, gliding past a pair of defenders, and fired off a shot that struck the arm of a Galaxy defender. At the other end of the pitch, he combined with Alex Roldan to clear an LA shot off the goal-line in the 15th minute.
Although it ultimately didn’t result in a penalty kick for the Sounders, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer highlighted Dobbelaere’s proactive approach in that moment as a bright spot in the first half.
“[The non-penalty call] Doesn’t take away from the kid coming in on his left and striking the ball fairly well and trying to create a goal-scoring moment,” said Schmetzer. “So, credit to the kid.”
Working in tandem with Roldan, Dobbelaere helped keep Cristián Pavon – an MLS MVP candidate who has 10 goals and seven assists this season – quiet all evening long. He also helped set up one of the most promising sequences of the first half when he made a clever run down the right channel and slipped a pass to Roldan, who curled a teasing cross that fell to the feet of Svensson for a shot.
As the Sounders ramp up for a 12th-consecutive postseason, Dobbelaere’s performance also demonstrated that the coaching staff has maintained a highly-competitive environment in training. With the young guys like Dobbelaere fighting for minutes, the squad has the balance necessary to keep everyone sharp as the reigning champs return to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.