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Jane Gershovich

WIRED: João Paulo is the key to unlocking Sounders FC's postseason potential

Sounders midfielder João Paulo is wired to win.

Signed in the offseason from Brazil’s Botafogo, João Paulo was an instant success in Seattle, providing a goal and an assist in his first match against C.D. Olimpia in the Concacaf Champions League.

Following that dream debut, João Paulo has quietly strung together an excellent first season in Rave Green. From 21 appearances across all competitions, Seattle’s all-action midfielder has pitched in four goals and six assists on top of his relentless defending and composure.

João Paulo’s raw goals and assists tallies are impressive in their own right, but when you examine the full context, they illustrate how the Brazilian raises his game in the biggest moments.

All the way back on March 1, João Paulo supplied an assist on Jordan Morris’ game-winning goal against the Chicago Fire. When the regular season restarted in the summer, he posted assists in both of the Sounders’ victories over rival LAFC. And as the Sounders struggled to break down bunkered teams later in the year, he helped the Sounders secure four crucial points with a goal and an assist against the Vancouver Whitecaps and LA Galaxy, respectively.

While general statistics fail to capture João Paulo’s critical role in the Sounders’ system, the underlying numbers indicate just how influential he’s been in 2020.

Operating as a box-to-box midfielder, João Paulo has been pivotal in linking the entire team together. According to Second Spectrum, the midfield maestro completed 90.91% of pass attempts that bypassed between 3-5 defenders on the ground – good for second in all of MLS – demonstrating his ability to unlock an opponent’s defensive shape with a single pass. He also registered 21 key passes and successfully completed 20 of his 21 attempted dribbles.

On the defensive side of the ball, João Paulo has added a bit of steel to the Seattle midfield, regardless of whether the team is sitting back of applying pressure higher up the pitch. With 80 combined interceptions and tackles and over 200 recoveries, he has quickly become one of the most effective two-way players in MLS.

It’s always difficult for new players to come into a team and make an immediate impact. That goes double for signings who join a team coming off a championship. But in 2020, João Paulo has not only elevated the Sounders’ ceiling, he’s shown a propensity to come alive in the biggest moments.

The Sounders will need João Paulo to come up clutch once again as they host LAFC in Round One of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs on November 24 (7:30 p.m. PT; ESPN, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM).

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