Hi there. After a move of residence, I am back with the second set of five cumulative ratings for the Seattle Sounders in 2017. This is a very interesting grouping. Unlike the bottom five, who were very clearly low performers and guys with few minutes, this group includes some very big names who underperformed last season. Also included are some young talents that have been blocked by others or have fallen victim to unfortunate injuries.
#20 Lamar Neagle – 5.36 | Community – 5.8
There wasn’t a lot to be excited about on Neagle’s return midway through the 2017 season. He came back to Seattle averaging a goal every 12.4 games for DC United. When he was last a member of the Sounders (2015), I gave Neagle a season rating of 5.13 and his final grade was about that good here; a USL+ guy who is a great team player, but offers little dynamism and isn’t a starter. Neagle does have a flair for the dramatic, however, and scored two goals for Seattle in just 88 minutes off the bench for a pretty solid goals-per-90 rate. These two games (LA Galaxy and FC Dallas) brought his rank up a lot, with each being his highest rating on the season (7). The LA goal even rescued a late home point.
On the flip side, Lamar was also terrible versus Real Salt Lake and the Philadelphia Union, both games in which Seattle were blown off the pitch. These low grades (4’s) showed the bad side of Neagle, who was very poor when on the ball and nonexistent off the ball in most of his other seven appearances. At this point it seems that Neagle is nothing more than a very specialized role player. He didn’t offer much in the playoffs either, with a 5.33 over three appearances that mirrored his below-average regular-season play.
Unfortunately, as the league improves with more and more Targeted Allocation Money and higher-level play, guys like Neagle don’t have a lot of room on the roster. On the wrong side of 30 and possessing a very limited skillset, Lamar is competing with younger, higher-upside guys for the last bench spot or to be a veteran presence on a team that is simply full of better veterans.
#19 Tyler Miller – 5.5 | Community – 5.75
Miller only played in two MLS games this year. The first was a USL level (4) rough showing where he gave up three goals to cellar-dwelling DC United and was rescued by a ridiculous comeback that saw Seattle score four unanswered goals after minute 50 to steal a win at the death. In this match Miller showed his inexperience, with positioning and footwork that was clearly not good enough. I have huge respect for the work of Tommy Dutra and the entire goalkeeping group, and it was not surprising that when given his second start of the year, Miller was much improved. This was a great outing against the Houston Dynamo in Texas in the Western Conference finals. Pressed into action due to an injury to Stefan Frei, Miller stepped up huge and was clearly well prepared to jump into the game. He was calm, comfortable, and showed his increased confidence while shutting out a strong Dynamo team on the road. It is likely that play like that, and the fantastic shot-stopping we’ve glimpsed over the last few years in USL matches and US Open Cup action, led to him being the first pick in the expansion draft.
I think Miller has a very high upside, and clearly so did LAFC. Unfortunately for Seattle Miller fans, he plays the one position where it is quite hard to get time as a backup. There is not a ton of upward mobility behind someone like Frei who is clearly still improving while being one of the best in the league already. And because of this, it’s nice to see Miller perhaps get a chance to show sooner than later if he is MLS level—but at a potential rival, this could end bittersweetly.
#18 Roman Torres – 5.67 | Community – 6.31
This is probably the first big surprise on the ratings list, and an example of a player whose late-season quality perhaps covered up some serious early-season struggles. Torres started the year off looking old, slow, and potentially hurt. His decision making in the first half of the season was suspect as well, raising quite legitimate calls to bench the Panamanian star. He earned a dismal 5.0 average in his first 10 matches. Then something magical happened: With the introduction of Kelvin Leerdam to the Sounders roster, suddenly Roman was making better decisions, looking faster and rejuvenated. With Leerdam next to him, Roman finished off the regular season averaging a full point higher (6.08) in the next 13 games, including his only MOTM title after the LAG game. Torres continued this rate of play, averaging 6.0 in four playoff games as well.
Torres is a hugely likeable guy, who is a clear winner and important part of the team’s culture and leadership. Even hurt and in bad form Torres still appeared 27 times this year for Seattle, and there is some thought his early season issues were holdovers from last year’s recovery from knee surgery.
With the absence of a lot of competition, Torres looks likely to slot in at his customary right centerback position to start the 2018 season. When on, he is one of the best defenders in the league and a top offensive contributor in desperate times. The good Torres is really special, and we saw a majority of that after the Leerdam injection.
#17 Jordan Morris – 5.8 | Community – 5.82
I am not sure many people would rank Morris as the 17th-best Sounder, but ratings after 25 appearances have him at a below-average 5.8. What is really interesting about Morris’s ratings is you can clearly see his injuries on my spreadsheet. My first mention of seeing Jordan’s ankle bothering him was a 5 rating against Atlanta United, which was preceded by three 7 ratings to start the season. After this he struggled for a few games before earning his best grade on the year (8) against the Galaxy in a match where he subbed out hurt again. He definitely struggled through the next nine games, with multiple mentions of his lack of acceleration, cutting ability, and physical fitness showing in each rating and concerns over why he was playing through these knocks.
Why am I still high on Morris? Because these games where he was hurt were almost exactly half of his appearances, and his rating in those games were a cumulative 5.154 (this includes the 8). In his other 10 regular-season appearances and two postseason matches, Morris averaged 6.5. This uninjured 6.5 average is almost exactly what he scored over a massive 42 appearances last year, and shows me that when healthy, Jordan is still a very, very good player.
As noted above, Morris has to get his health in order before anything else happens, but it’s very clear to me that when he is healthy, he is quite productive. Seattle still needs to determine if Jordan is a winger or forward or both. When healthy, I think Morris is preferable to Bruin, and should be a near everyday starter in 2018.
#16 Aaron Kovar – 5.86 | Community – 5.9
The young, hardworking Kovar, who looked to be improving with minutes, got hurt again in 2017 and stunted any momentum he had as an MLS-level player. The disappearance of Aaron Kovar was a bit of a sad joke in the second half of the season for some Sounders fans, as he apparently wasn’t worthy of bench appearances even while healthy. After a career-high 18 games last year, Aaron only had seven appearances this year, but was consistently near average, with a high rating of 7 from the July 4 game against Colorado. His cumulative average for 2017 was also almost exactly his 2016 average, and he chipped in a nice Open Cup showing or two as well. It’s hard to rate a player who is unfortunately injury-prone, but his homegrown status and tiny salary likely make him a bit easier to keep around. The tools are there, but it’s getting near the end of the development time a younger player should require. His ratings tell me there is talent there, but 2018 is likely his last chance.
Kovar has at least one elite MLS skill and many above-average talents. He should be competing with the Wingo/Delem/Fisher-level players for the last spot on the bench in 2018, and could be a great super sub type if good health is combined with some tangible stats. He will have to take advantage of every handful of minutes he can earn and continue to show he’s MLS ready at all times.