A new role is nothing new at all for Brandt Bronico.
The versatile 24-year-old -- a midfielder by trade -- earned his first start at right back in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake at SeatGeek Stadium, playing 90 minutes and proving himself effective in both the offensive and defensive phases of the game.
Head coach Veljko Paunović, impressed by Bronico’s effort at the position over the final 10 minutes of the Club’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match in St. Louis on June 11, offered the 24-year-old a shot at getting more comfortable with the role going forward. He answered quickly.
“I said, ‘Yes, for sure,’” Bronico recalled. “I want to play. It doesn’t matter necessarily what position I am. I just want to be on the field and I want to play.”
That mindset has been a boon to Bronico’s early professional career. Since entering the league as an MLS SuperDraft selection in 2017, Bronico has been routinely asked to take on alternating roles and responsibilities in the midfield as different opponents and situations have dictated. Over his 39 MLS appearances, the 24-year-old has earned minutes in a central defensive role, as a shuttling No. 8, as a more advanced attacking fulcrum, and has filled in out wide as a winger as well.
Fast forward to June 12, and Bronico was ready to add another tool to his belt. With 10 days to prepare for the Club’s meeting with Real Salt Lake, Bronico began studying the specifics of the right back position as it relates to Paunović’s system.
“This is my third year with the Fire, so I had an idea and a foundation for how they want their right backs to play,” Bronico said. “They just went into a little bit more detail with how I should approach the game going in as a right back for the first time.”
“From the first moment we worked with him, it went pretty smooth and easy in training and the video sessions and meetings we had,” Paunović added, following Bronico’s debut at the position on Saturday night. “Dissecting and giving the expectations we had for the position, the kid learned it like this (snaps his fingers). (He’s) very smart and today had a great game.”
Bronico showed little hesitation in his first shift at right back on Saturday, combining well with the wingers ahead of him and holding his own defensively over the course of an active shift. His 12 defensive actions (defined as tackles, blocks, interceptions, clearances and recoveries, per Opta) were the second-most on the team, while his pair of key passes were a team-high and set up dangerous moments in front of net for Aleksandar Katai and Przemysław Frankowski as the Fire pushed for a late winner.
“It was just like any other game: go out there, give everything you’ve got, and do your best,” Bronico said. “I felt prepared. I felt comfortable and I felt confident going into the game. I just built off that momentum and told myself, ‘Just do what you do.’ That’s how I approached it.”
“In 10 days, he learned everything he needs to learn about that position and had a fantastic performance,” Paunović said postgame. “Defensively and offensively, he created a couple of great key passes for Katai.”
Bronico’s defensive coverage and ability to find the Serbian international upfield freed Katai to focus on the Salt Lake backline. Since Bronico became a regular in Paunović’s rotation last June, three of his six career assists have been on Katai goals.
“We sit next to each other in the locker room,” Bronico said. “There’s not a whole lot of talking going on (laughs), but we kind of have this telepathic soccer connection where I just know what he’s going to do, so I’m like, ‘How can I find Katai?’ and it kind of just works out.”
The Fire are back on the road Friday night in New Jersey when they take on the New York Red Bulls. While it’s unclear whether Bronico will lineup along the backline, he sees last weekend’s game as a win for both the player and the Club.
“Getting experience and playing well in different positions I think can benefit not only myself, but the team as well,” he said. “Bringing more to the team is what the staff asks of us, and that’s what I try to do.”