SEATTLE – Sounders defender Kim Kee-hee looked like he’d had his scalp torn off as blood gushed down his face.
In other words, he was right in his element. The Sounders center back was fortunate to have escaped the head blow taken in Portland two weeks ago with only the bloody gash, some stitches and no concussion, but says it’s all in a day’s work for him.
“I get injured all the time,” the bruising, 6-foot-2, 175-pound Korean import said Friday through an interpreter. “I’ve gotten a broken nose. I’ve gotten cut eyes and all the things. But I’m tough.”
Nobody’s arguing otherwise. At least, not to Kim’s face.
They’ve needed Kim’s physical play early on as opponents look to take advantage of an injury depleted 2-5-2 squad. The Sounders will seek only their second home win of the season Saturday at 2 p.m. against Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field in a game they need badly to win to keep pace with the Western Conference pack ahead of anticipated July roster additions.
The upcoming June stretch will be particularly tough for a Sounders squad missing several key players due to injury and having seen Nicolas Lodeiro, Roman Torres and Gustav Svensson leave early for FIFA World Cup duty with their respective national squads.
The Sounders are so depleted on attack they’ve added Sounders2 striker prospect Felix Chenkam to the first team roster for the game. Cameroon native Chenkham hails from the same hometown as left back Nouhou and gives the Sounders some late-game insurance as Will Bruin is still hobbling around while Clint Dempsey and Lamar Neagle aren’t quite 90-minute options up-top any more.
The World Cup departures of center back Torres and midfielder Svensson deprives the team of two of its most physical players and overall defenders. The Sounders have been vulnerable in the recent past to teams targeting their smaller playmakers and trying to push them around, meaning the imposing Kim has a void to fill.
Kim has had a hard time staying healthy as well ever since his Sounders debut in CONCACAF Champions League play in Mexico when he subbed on and started running at Chivas players that had been fouling the Sounders left and right to that point. A few days later, he played the final 16 minutes of a loss to Dallas in his Major League Soccer debut and had a calf muscle already sore from the Chivas game flare up on him.
It would be six more weeks before Kim played again as he nursed the Grade 2 strain. But he’s started three of four matches since, impressing with his physical style. He looked dominant on the back line against Portland, only to leave in the 71stminute after taking a blow to head while defending off a corner kick.
“He’s aggressive, which I like,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “So, you think Roman (Torres) is physical because he knocks people over and there’s other guys, like (assistant coach) Djimi Traore who would slide-tackle guys. Those are all physical components to our game.
“But what I like about Kim is, he’s very aggressive. He’ll get his body positioned right and he steps and tries to win balls. His marking on set pieces is good. He’s very aggressive there. He wraps guys up. So, I like him.”
The Sounders brought Kim here for $632,000 in targeted allocation money because they knew Torres was looking banged up in training camp and would be playing in the World Cup. There was a chance Kim, who has 23 international caps with South Korea, might have been playing in the World Cup as well.
But his early injuries ruined any chance of being added to the Korean roster. He’d won a bronze medal with his country’s U23 side at the 2012 London Olympics – the first Olympic medal ever in Korean soccer – and then played five pro seasons in the domestic K League.
His last two seasons were with Shanghai in the Chinese Super League. Kim says the play in Asia overall is somewhat faster, but MLS reminds him more of the leagues in Europe.
And there’s something else he’s noticed.
“It’s more physical,” he said.
In other words, he’s smiling beneath all the blood.