It was never easy for Leo Gonzalez to sit out and wait while he patiently worked his way back from offseason groin surgery.
However, that was made much easier by the upstart play of Dylan Remick and the prospect of reaching the form that earned Gonzalez Sounders FC’s Defender of the Year award in 2013. Now back in the starting lineup, the 33-year-old Costa Rican defender is poised to remind fans why he has been so effective for Seattle in his first five years with the club.
“My first priority was to feel healthy. Now I feel ready to go and I don’t feel it anymore,” Gonzalez said. “I feel like I can play every game. Every player wants to play. After four or five months, this was my first 90 minutes and I feel so happy for that. It was not a good game defensively, but we’ll work hard this week and fix that aspect. But I feel so happy because I feel healthy and ready to play.”
Gonzalez has been training in full for nearly two months and played 90 minutes in two matches with the reserve team against college opponents before Saturday’s return to the starting lineup. Because of Remick’s play, Gonzalez and the Sounders were able to be patient in coming back on a full-time basis.
Remick, a second-year left back out of Brown University and a second round pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, started the first four matches for Seattle and held his own, helping Seattle to two shutouts in those matches.
That competition at the left back spot is nothing new to Gonzalez, who had MLS veterans Tyson Wahl and Marc Burch fighting for playing time ever since he came to Seattle in 2009.
“For the team, the best is if every player can give 100-percent. When you have a highly competitive team, you need to do your best and Dylan did a great job now and all preseason. When it’s competitive like that, you have to work very hard in training and in every game if you want to play because you have a good player next to you,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve always had pressure. You can’t relax. You always have to be working hard.”
Gonzalez credits Seattle’s training and coaching staffs in helping him back to fitness while also not rushing him back to the field. The next step for Gonzalez will be to get more comfortable on the field, an aspect that typically would have been done over the course of several preseason matches.
“We tried to bring him along slowly from his injury and not push him back too soon,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “We felt that his fitness was there. He just needs to get more games now to get into the rhythm of his game.”
That will come over the course of the coming weeks and if last season was any indication, Seattle’s defense will be much better for it. Last year, Gonzalez missed seven starts and Seattle allowed two goals per game in those matches. In the 27 matches that he started, the Sounders held a 1.04 goals against average.
Now with Gonzalez back in the lineup, there is a veteran savvy to the back line as the defense looks to get back on track this week against FC Dallas.