Lost in the buzz of Tally Hall’s spectacular evening against his hometown Sounders on Saturday were the contributions of two Dynamo players who felt anything but at home.
Rookies Will Bruin and Kofi Sarkodie, less than four months removed from collegiate soccer, became the first pair of Dynamo rookies to start a league game together and helped contribute to the result despite a few nerves.
“It’s definitely a huge atmosphere,” Bruin said afterward. “You step onto the field, and you look around and you see 30,000 jumping people, and it’s awesome for the sport. I tuned them out and didn’t really hear them once we crossed the lines, but they lived up to everything that I had heard.”
Bruin had already started the Dynamo’s opener, but he increased his playing time from 61 to 75 minutes on Friday night. Facing the stiff challenge of trying to win the ball in the air and hold the ball against physical Seattle center backs Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni, Bruin appeared to improve in the second half when 6-foot-4 Cam Weaver was inserted as the main aerial target.
“It was definitely a physical game, but I need to work on holding the ball up more,” Bruin said. “It’s part of my game that I’m learning, and I know I have a lot of room for improvement. Hopefully I can keep learning from each game.”
At the other end of the field, Sarkodie made his professional debut at the right back spot due to center back Jermaine Taylor’s absence to play for the Jamaican national team. Matched up against former University of Akron teammate Steve Zakuani, Sarkodie too had a night with some ups and some downs, and he admitted to some nerves on his debut.
“I was definitely a little antsy in the beginning, but I felt over the duration of the match I got better and better,” Sarkodie said. “Now throughout the week I’ll look to keep improving and hopefully get another start against New York and continue to get better.”
Just three days past his 20th birthday, Sarkodie became the youngest player in Dynamo history to start an MLS game. He made several runs up the right side but occasionally struggled to reach the ball due to its quick roll on the wet turf; he finished with one cross. His biggest contribution, however, came in front of his own goal, when he slid to knock the ball away from Zakuani at the edge of the six-yard box in the 79th minute. Although the ensuing sequence of corner kicks led to the tying goal, Sarkodie’s intervention was a positive sign.
“I saw Steve had crept underneath our back line, so I decided to step forward and hope he would be offside,” Sarkodie said. “The ref ended up not calling it, and Steve took a touch, so I came back in and just slid to touch it out of bounds before Steve had a chance to finish it. After I slid, he landed on my shin area and it bent back, so it hurt a lot, but I thought it was an important play on the day.”
Head coach Dominic Kinnear has said all season that he expects both Bruin and Sarkodie to play important minutes for his club, and they got a taste of some serious pressure on Friday night. For midfielder Geoff Cameron, who holds most Dynamo rookie records from his 2008 campaign, they handled it well.
“It was obvious their nerves were in it a little bit in the first 10-15 minutes, but once they settled down, it was alright,” Cameron said. “It’s a great atmosphere to play in, especially their first start together, so it’s a good way to start off a career.”
Both Bruin and Sarkodie reiterated their team’s disappointment at succumbing to the Seattle pressure and not holding the 1-0 lead, but like the older players, they were encouraged by the performance.
“Throughout the game and after the game, a lot of the older guys were talking to me and telling me to keep being confident and keep going forward, and I’m sure they’re saying the same thing to Will,” Sarkodie said. “For two rookies to start, I think it shows that there’s been integration of the youth coming into the team and that the level hasn’t dropped, which makes it huge for us to get a tie here with two rookies. We want to keep moving forward, keep getting better, and hopefully get a result against New York.”