SEATTLE — It simply had to be Will Bruin.
Clad in an elbow brace that prevented his arm from fully extending, starting at forward against his former team where he had previously spent his entire career, Bruin headed home a pinpoint cross from Cristian Roldan in the 69th minute on Sunday to lift the Sounders to a 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo.
The goal was Bruin’s fourth of the campaign, which ties him with Clint Dempsey for the Sounders’ team lead, despite only playing 527 minutes. With forwards Dempsey and Jordan Morris away with the United States national team ahead of World Cup Qualifiers, Bruin fought through a dislocated elbow, which he suffered at the very end of Seattle’s win over Real Salt Lake on May 20, just two weeks ago.
“It was kind of tough,” Bruin said. “I was telling some of the trainers at halftime that I don’t have my full strength at pushing off and holding guys.”
Bruin is a lefty despite being right-foot dominant, so it was rather awkward for him to use his weaker arm to shield off players. He was pleased that the training staff was able to make some of the swelling go away and get it to a point where he could play, even if Houston’s defenders focused on his elbow.
“You get nervous that something could happen and could really reinjure it and that would probably be a really serious thing, but the majority of the concern among the coaching staff — I don’t think Will, because he’s a tough kid, he wasn’t worried about, but we were worried about it and how it affected his movement, his running, his balance,” said head coach Brian Schmetzer.
“The first few minutes, I could tell they were going out of their way to grab it and pull it,” Bruin said. “I don’t know if they expected that I was going to play. I’m sure some of them thought to try and grab my brace and throw me off my game that way.
“I tried to grind them down and annoy them all game,” he continued, “and I knew I’d get my one chance.”
Roldan played a fantastic ball into the box, one which he said he made sure not to rush given the amount of space and time afforded him. He wanted to put it as close to the six-yard-box as he could without letting goalkeeper Tyler Deric get a hand on it and let Bruin do the rest.
“Will brings that edge, he’s a true No. 9,” Roldan said. “You can get layoffs from him. He’s a competitor and you can see it in the goal. That was a No. 9 finish, a poacher’s finish.”
Bruin made his former team pay, and when he did, he stayed in the net a little longer than usual, savoring it. He pointed to the crowd as the fire cannons went off and was hugged by Alvaro Fernandez. He gave a two-thumbs up, referencing a gesture he made during a match against the New England Revolution at the end of April, and fired up the crowd.
What’s more is that he did it all with a huge smile.
“[Scoring against Houston],” Bruin said, “makes it a little sweeter.”