Sounders FC 2 defender Brian Nana-Sinkam is having a fantastic rookie campaign in the Pacific Northwest. A first-round pick for the Sounders in the 2017 MLS Super Draft, Nana-Sinkam has brought a wealth of experience, leadership and an incredibly high soccer IQ to a young squad jam-packed with potential.
A dominant force at center back in college for two-time NCAA national champion Stanford, his versatility along S2’s backline has been an invaluable asset this season. While his versatility is certainly a boon to the whole group, it has also played a pivotal role in his adjustment to the professional game and, just as importantly, his individual development as a defender.
“I love that the club sees me as a versatile defender,” said Nana-Sinkam. “Coming out of college I didn’t play outside back at all, so during preseason coming in with the First Team, they played me almost exclusively at right back. I’m a bit undersized as a center back, so they see me as both and I’m happy.”
Transitioning to a new position while adjusting to the rigors of the professional game is a bit of a trial by fire. But Nana-Sinkam, who has earned seven starts as a left back, six as a right back and 10 as a center back, has used each new challenge as an opportunity to develop myriad facets of his game.
"There’s a learning curve coming to the professional game,” said Nana-Sinkam. “I had a successful college career, but it doesn’t mean that I was playing at the right speed of play or doing all of the little things right. So playing at outside back has helped me to understand the speed of the game, playing quicker, because when you’re playing at outside back, sometimes you don’t have a lot of time to make decisions on the ball.”
He continued: “So coming in preseason and playing at outside back, which helped me a lot with the speed of play. Now that I’m moving back to centerback, you have a bit more time on the ball and it’s more about decision making and organizing the defense.”
The modern role of an outside back places plenty of emphasis on the attacking side of the game. Fullbacks are expected to bomb up and down the flanks, providing width and serving precise crosses into the box. Nana-Sinkam, who recorded just a single goal in his four-year college career, has used his time at outside back to improve his ability going forward. With three goals (fourth highest on the team), two assists and 11 chances created, it’s safe to say his hard work is paying off.
“It’s great to have a player that’s versatile like Brian,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Personnel Kurt Schmid. “He can play all across the backline, so it’s been good. There’s obviously different elements to playing in each spot, and he’s probably most comfortable at center back, but the demands in the other positions has helped him gain new perspectives and has made him a more well-rounded defender.”
Back in college, Nana-Sinkam’s role in Stanford’s system was purely defensive, emphasizing his excellent ability to organize his team’s defense. That communication has helped not only his development, but also some of the younger players on the squad, including the numerous Academy prospects who’ve played up with S2 this season.
Sam Rogers, who signed directly from the Academy back in June, spent most of his time in the Rave Green youth system as a deep-lying central midfielder. Having a vocal organizer like Nana-Sinkam alongside him has helped ease his transition to a full-time center back, and it’s showed in his rapid improvement throughout the season.
“Whenever you can be versatile for a team, it helps your chances of moving up,” said Nana-Sinkam. “That’s my goal, to move up to the First Team, and playing for the fans at CenturyLink and playing at the highest level that I can.”