The Seattle Sounders continue to prepare for Round One of the 2021 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs against Real Salt Lake (7:30 p.m. PT; FS1, FOX Deportes, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS) at Lumen Field on November 23. The Rave Green have qualified for 13 consecutive postseasons, reaching MLS Cup in four of the last five years. For the Sounders, there is only one path forward: straight ahead.
In advance of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, we're breaking down the key players to watch. Here's everything you need to know about João Paulo.
ROLE IN THE SQUAD
João Paulo is the ultimate connector in midfield. He is as much deep-lying playmaker as he is defensive destroyer, and the Sounders rely on him for both. The 30-year-old Brazilian is as important a rock in central midfield as Seattle has had since prime Osvaldo Alonso, but with the added offensive bona fides to pull off something like this. João Paulo’s set piece delivery is also a key weapon for Head Coach Brian Schmetzer, with João Paulo’s 11 assists finishing tied for sixth in the league this season.
REGULAR SEASON RECAP
João Paulo was the single best non-attacker in MLS this season, which is why he’s well on his way to an MLS Best XI honor and MLS MVP consideration. Other players around the league may have produced better numbers or flashed a little more flair, but in terms of tangible value, no one mattered more to his team in 2021 than João Paulo.
Dealing with the nearly year-long absences of Nicolás Lodeiro and Jordan Morris, as well as almost a quarter of the season without Raúl Ruidíaz, João Paulo was the glue that held everything together. Among midfielders, he finished the season in the 89th percentile in passes completed, 90th percentile in progressive passes, 92nd percentile in tackles won, 96th percentile in assists, 96th percentile in touches and 97th percentile in ball recoveries. He was simply everywhere and involved in everything the Sounders did this season, including leading them to second place in the Western Conference.
BEST QUOTE ABOUT JOÃO PAULO
“I see three letters: MVP.” — Fredy Montero
TOP PLAY OF 2021
There’s a reason why this is up for MLS Goal of the Year.
The margin for error in the playoffs shrinks considerably, as the opportunities become fewer and the stakes become greater. The Sounders will need to ride their do-it-all veteran in the center of the park to cut off opponents in transition as well as put teammates into dangerous pockets of space in the attacking third. He won’t need to win matches by himself — the returns of Ruidíaz, Lodeiro and Morris will help — but he will need to dictate the tempo of the game. If the Sounders can get out of João Paulo in the postseason what they got all year, then Seattle will be poised to make an incredible fifth trip to MLS Cup in the last six seasons. Their journey starts against Real Salt Lake on Tuesday, Nov. 23 (7:30 p.m. PT; FS1, FOX Deportes, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS).