A couple months after winning the 2019 MLS Cup, Seattle Sounders right fullback Kelvin Leerdam showed up to preseason as the only returning defensive starter on that championship-winning side.
Left back Brad Smith’s 18-month loan stint ended, and he returned to parent club AFC Bournemouth in England. Center back Kim Kee-hee signed with Ulsan Hyundai in his native South Korea, while fellow CB Román Torres joined MLS expansion side Inter Miami.
Leerdam was unfazed. The 14-year veteran, who scored the opener in the Cup last year, felt as comfortable as ever. Stefan Frei was still in goal. Djimi Traore was still the defensive coach. And perhaps above all else, he believed in the Sounders’ ability to attack.
“I enjoy the way we play,” Leerdam said. “We attack a lot and we score a lot of goals. It makes it easier on defense when we finish our chances.”
Leerdam has benefitted from this offensive mindset as much as anyone. In his first two years with the club, he scored just once, which came in his first start. In the last two years, he’s scored eight times and solidified himself as one of the most clinical right fullbacks in MLS.
“Although he isn’t flashy, [Leerdam] is very effective,” wrote former Sounders winger and current broadcaster Steve Zakuani for MLSSoccer.com, where he listed Leerdam as the fourth-best RB in the league. “He goes about his work quietly, but does a great job at both ends of the pitch and is very sound technically.”
It wasn’t easy at first to adjust to playing next to two new center backs, but Leerdam has jelled nicely alongside Yeimar and Shane O’Neill, the latter with whom Leerdam sometimes speak Dutch. O’Neill spent a couple seasons playing in the Netherlands and even that little bit of camaraderie can go a long way. The return of Smith and Torres later this year has helped as well.
Leerdam has also enjoyed some of the new faces this season, including Brazilian Designated Player João Paulo.
“João Paulo is a baller,” Leerdam said. “He helps us a lot in possession and makes our game a lot easier.”
The Sounders will need to be at their best on Nov. 24 when they host LAFC (7:30 p.m. PT; ESPN, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) in Round One of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Leerdam said that this has been a difficult year for everyone, on and off the pitch, but he’s settled in really nicely in Seattle, is enjoying life and is hopeful that can translate into success during games.
“As long as you feel happy [outside the pitch],” he said, “you’ll be happy inside the pitch.”