Brad Smith is coming home.
Smith, who thrived at left back during an 18-month loan spell with the Rave Green, returned to the Sounders on a permanent basis on Thursday morning.
A product of the famed Liverpool FC academy, Smith became an instant fan favorite in Seattle as one of the most productive attacking outside backs in Major League Soccer. His stellar play down the left flank, which translated to seven assists and 28 key passes from 31 regular season appearances, helped propel the Sounders to the 2019 MLS Cup title.
Here are five reasons to be excited about the Smith’s return to Seattle.
Left back is a position of scarcity for most MLS sides. Few clubs can boast having two consistent, starting-caliber players at that position. With Smith, Nouhou and Joevin Jones on the roster, the Sounders’ depth at such a critical spot in the modern game is unparalleled in Major League Soccer.
Smith’s inclusion on the roster affords Head Coach Brian Schmetzer a level of tactical flexibility that few teams can match. As demonstrated down the stretch last season, and in Seattle’s 7-1 demolition of the San Jose Earthquakes, Jones can be a productive player when deployed on the wing. Considering Smith’s undeniable quality when he joins the attack, his presence also adds a new dimension to the team when Schmetzer rolls out a 3-4-2-1, like he did in the 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake. Add in the squad rotation necessitated by the condensed schedule and Smith’s inclusion to the squad gives the Sounders several different permutations they can employ based on the opposition.
Between Smith’s attacking spark from left back and Jordan Morris’ emergence as a first-class MLS winger, Seattle possessed one of the most dynamic left-sided tandems in 2019. The duo enjoyed complementary skillsets, boasting elite understanding of space, world-class pace and quality service for the likes of Raúl Ruidíaz and Nicolás Lodeiro. Smith’s return means the potential re-emergence of a left-sided partnership that propelled the Rave Green to the club’s second championship.
He’s Got the Sauce
Some aspects of soccer just can’t be captured by box scores. While Smith certainly made his fair share of contributions on the stat sheet, there’s something to be said for a player who gets you off your seat with a moment of individual brilliance.
Smith’s penchant for megging players and gliding past tackles is the kind of play that makes you tune in whenever he’s on the pitch. Best remembered for his blistering pace and picturesque crosses, expect the Australian left back to supply plenty of slick dribbles and creativity in the final third.
Bolstering the Attack
Through 10 matches and several restarts, the Sounders attack has been absolutely flying in 2020, scoring 23 goals in the regular season. Sifting through the numbers even further, the Rave Green’s offense sits third in the league for expected goals with 19.63, despite playing one fewer game than the two teams (LAFC and Toronto) ahead of them.
Smith’s attacking influence is like a force multiplier, as his comfort in possession and contributions in the final third simply make the players around him better. With the Sounders’ offense already firing on all cylinders, his addition to the squad could kick the attack into hyperdrive.
There are two truths about Smith’s previous tenure with the Sounders: he loves Seattle and he’s probably psychic.
When his original loan to Seattle was extended, he repeatedly predicted that this squad was capable of winning trophies.
"This is what we all wanted," Smith told reporters when his loan extension was announced on July 31, 2019. "I'm just glad to be here for the rest of the season. I think we can do some special things in the second half of the season."
That prediction proved prescient as the Sounders toppled TFC 3-1 in the MLS Cup final in front of almost 70,000 supporters at CenturyLink Field. Basking in the glory of bringing a championship to the supporters, Smith spoke glowingly about what it meant to help deliver another title the city of Seattle.
"This is what this city deserves," Smith said in the locker room following the championship match. "For me personally, it's an amazing feeling."
"I've said in interviews from when I first arrived, I could tell it was such a special group. You can look back in the interviews when I said that, and I said we're going to do special things."
With Smith back in Seattle, the Sounders have added yet another player with requisite talent to match his title ambitions. It's a welcome addition as the Rave Green look to defend their MLS Cup title.