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March 12, 2014 at 10:07 AM

Leo Gonzalez says he might need one more week in return from surgery

The Sounders are close to full strength, but they are there quite yet. Left back Leo Gonzalez, the team’s defender of the year in 2013, continues to be in the final stages of recovery from offseason groin surgery.

“I feel almost ready,” Gonzalez said Tuesday. “I played 90 minutes (against UW in a reserve game) Sunday. … I feel healthy and maybe in the next weeks I’ll be 100 percent.”

“I want to play soon,” he added, “because I know it’s difficult. Dylan (Remick) is still playing pretty good and the team won, but what’s more important for me is to feel 100 percent, feel ready to play, and … I feel almost ready.”

Photo credit: Dean Rutz, The Seattle Times

Photo credit: Dean Rutz, The Seattle Times

The former Costa Rican international said it’s taken a bit longer to get back than expected, but the process has been deliberate so to avoid setback. He is mainly focused on building his fitness and gaining confidence from day-to-day training.

“I need to work extra because I started the preseason a little late,” he said.

Coach Sigi Schmid said the job is still Gonzalez’ when he’s healthy: “I’ve told Remick that. (Leo is) a returning starting fullback and it was an injury that had him out. Sometimes when you come off the injury that Leo is coming off, you get to like 90-95 percent, and it’s in that last five percent, that little bit of burst, that little bit of explosion… Leo’s always been one of our best defenders going against fast players. It’s always people think, ‘Oh, I’m faster than Leo,’ but he always finds a way to find that gear to make sure he stays with a guy, and that’s that last little burst I think that’s he still looking for right now.”

Remick started in Saturday’s opener against Kansas City and reiterated how much Gonzalez has helped him in his development entering his second season out of Brown.

So why has Gonzalez embraced the role of mentor for someone that could take his place in the lineup?

“Just I want the best for the team,” he said. “Dylan did a great job in the preseason. He’s a great player, he’s a younger guy and he needs advice from older guys. I have experience. I’ve played 13 years of professional soccer. … He’s a good guy. He deserves to play and he has the opportunity. He needs to work hard to keep it because I want to play, too. It’s good competition for him and for me.”

One last thing that came up in our interview with Gonzalez, a chat that spanned five minutes in English, perhaps the longest he has gone in his second language. That was him being the team’s reigning defender of the year, and how much that means to him.

“It’s good because I feel I did a good job in the defense, but most important for me is to get trophies,” Gonzalez said.

“I want to get trophies for the team. … It doesn’t matter if I get personal things. The most important thing is the group objective and goals.”

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