After coming to the United States, Giliano Wijnaldum has spent time with Bethlehem Steel FC. He's started all five matches he's appeared in, while having a 73.7 passing percentage. But 11 games into the season, Wijnaldum finally got his call-up.
Wijnaldum made his MLS debut against Colorado Rapids Saturday, starting in place for Fabinho at left back. And in his first match, he caught the eyes of his coaches.
"It felt good to make my first start," Wijnaldum said. "I waited a long time for this moment, and finally I made my debut in MLS."
Wijnaldum played the full 90 minutes on the backline, and after a tentative first half to the match, he settled in the second half and really impressed. Wijnaldum had one tackle, one block, two clearances and five ball recoveries, which is a solid stat line for a first career start. But he was also heavily involved in the attacking side of the ball as well.
Wijnaldum completed 45 passes in 53 attempts on the night, giving him an impressive 85 passing percentage on the night. Most of his passes were along the left side of the pitch, natural for a leftback, but he did work the ball into the middle of the field as well. One of his passes was a key pass as well. He chipped the ball into the box, where Chris Pontius climbed the ladder for a leaping header, but pushed it over the net. He also jumped up into the attack many times throughout the game, sometimes even higher than the midfielders.
"I play a pressing game," Wijnaldum said. "If there's space to go to, then I'll go there."
Head Coach Jim Curtin said Wijnaldum had been working hard in training, and with the team in a double game week, it was time to slot him into the starting XI.
"In a tough spot, Giliano came in and gave us a great game," Curtin said. "I thought he was excellent on the night, getting forward, connecting his passes. He brought high energy in his first start and debut. That's a positive. Giliano has been excellent in training and we needed to give him a shot and he more than answered the bell."
Wijnaldum is now the seventh Union player to make his MLS debut in the 2017 season. And after training hard and playing a solid game against Colorado, he hopes to continue to get playing time.
"I came here to play," Wijnaldum said. "My first games I played with Steel, but I was happy to make my MLS debut. Now I hope to keep getting playing time."