Cruising into the third group of five players, we begin to see a cross-section of guys who ended up with vastly different roles by the end of the year than was expected in preseason. Injury, strong play, and variability in performance contributed deeply to these rankings. This group also includes the two players with the biggest range of grades, showing how much value consistency has in retaining a high rating in this scale.
#15 Will Bruin – 5.89 | Community – 6.08
Once again, Seattle looked interleague to pick up one of the best domestic strikers available to bolster the forward corps prior to the beginning of the season. Bruin came in with a great attitude and worked hard to be ready every game. This paid off, as some early sub appearances led to consistent starts and a massive 35 appearances (including every game of the playoffs). Will was an integral part of the Seattle offense this year, and outperformed many expectations with regards to his goalscoring.
Bruin was very streaky, averaging 5.67 in his first three games, then 7 over his next three and 4.75 in his next four. This up-and-down continued with nine games earning 6.44 Followed by nine earning 4.89. This was indicative of a player who was very effective when he got chances to clean up in the box (like his impressive showing in the D.C. United home comeback) but when the team asked him to do more, he just wasn’t very good. Bruin likely isn’t your top option on a team aiming to win MLS cup, but he’s a tremendous depth piece. When asked to be more, results were predictably all over the place. Will had the second-largest range of grades over the season, with a low of 4 and a high of 9.
With more firepower being added to the attack via the return of Morris, potential additions to the team, and Dempsey pushed higher, I think it’s likely that Bruin returns to what he was expected to be in 2017: a very capable bench option who can come into games and add a big body in the box who is very strong at finishing inside the 18 when chasing a goal. Bruin should get some spot starts but mainly be an early option off the bench.
#14 Alvaro Fernandez – 5.90 | Community – 5.2
Many likely forgot that Flaco Fernandez was on the team last year, as he left midseason after his contract expired and he was not re-signed. His ranking at No. 14 on the Realio scale this year is a bit of a surprise, but shows how important it is to maintain high grades — the range for his 10 appearances was from 5 to 7. Alvaro did what was expected, played around average and linked well with others. Fernandez did not offer a lot creatively and was much more of a “cog in the machine” player than one you look to as a difference-maker. Interestingly enough, his best two appearances of the year were his last two in a Sounders uniform (each garnering a 7) with Flaco earning his only MOTM on the season for his strong performance in the loss to Columbus.
Alvaro was a great team player and someone who helped Nico adjust to Seattle while also providing some replacement-level minutes to the team. While he never lived up statistically to his first stint here, Flaco was a dependable player who is now back in Argentina playing for San Martin San Juan.
#13 Brad Evans – 6.0 | Community – 5.79
Like most here, I had high hopes for Evans in 2017. I thought he had best 11 talent at right back, and then he got hurt. After 30 appearances last year, Brad managed only 11 this season in an injury-plagued, disastrous year. Still, he managed a strong 6 average over these matches including twice earning 7 (Real Salt Lake and San Jose Earthquakes home wins). This was my comment from the RSL match:
“The difference in tactical positioning between Evans and every other right back this year was incredible. In the stats he had a very solid 88 percent passing, a few crosses and defensive actions, but the change in the Sounders’ tactical shape was phenomenal. He picked his points to attack smartly and was a general on the field, consistently waving people into position and communicating with great results.”
But Evans got hurt. His back issues eventually were so bad he was shut down and didn’t play any of the last seventeen matches of the year.
A healthy Brad Evans is your #1 backup at right back and center back entering the season, picking up starts with any injury or rotational need. He’s an every-game bench option who can sub into a game anywhere across the back or midfield lines. Currently a free agent, if the Sounders are satisfied his back problems are fixed, I hope they bring back this versatile leader.
#12 Joevin Jones – 6.03 | Community – 6.35
Joevin was terrifically up and down in 2017. He started off averaging a spectacular 7.25 over his first four games, including both of his MOTM awards for the season. He then produced an awful 5.08 average for the next 12 matches, which encompassed his absolutely dreadful 2 and 3 ratings from away games in Chicago and Columbus, respectively. In the last fourteen games of the year, coinciding with the emergence of Nouhou, switching back and forth from left back and left wing saw Jones earn a very nice 6.07. Even with an awful 3 in the final, Jones still earned 6 overall in the playoffs.
Jones’s scores were by far the most erratic on the team, earning anywhere from the 2 to 8 range. When he was on, Joevin was an un-markable pinpoint-accurate assist machine. When he was off, Jones was quite awful, combining bad passing and poor positioning with erroneous decisions and a visible lack of effort. All of these massive peaks and valleys ended up averaging out to 6, which makes sense.
Jones left for Germany in the offseason and that closes the chapter on a turbulent time in Seattle. It was clear that Joevin had motivation issues at times and often relied on raw talent over soccer IQ. There’s no denying he was a special offensive player for much of the year, and it was a great bit of maneuvering by Garth to pick him up, but Seattle looks well prepared to enter life without him.
#11 Nouhou – 6.04 | Community – 6.19
Just outside the top 10 and firmly in the “best 11” was young phenom Nouhou. He is a great example of a player who was given a chance to play and took full advantage, translating good practices and an early sub role into 24 total appearances, with many being starts. The Houtrain started chugging May 31 against Columbus, where he promptly ripped off eight 6 grades and a 7 in his first nine appearances. He only missed seeing the field in two games after that, and finished with a highly respectable 6.0 average in the regular season. In the playoffs he was even better, averaging 6.2 and getting on the field in every match.
Nouhou did struggle in the RSL and Philadelphia Union games late in the year along with the rest of the team. Those matches, as well as the August 11 Sporting Kansas City win and the cup final, resulted in his lowest grades of the year (5). He countered that with five matches earning above-average 7s, and it should be noted that this is a player who had just been promoted from S2, and had zero matches where he rated at a USL level.
Jennings Francis being added to the roster in the offseason, the incumbent Nouhou has some competition for his starting left back spot. This depth is a good thing, but I fully expect the high ceiling Nouhou comes along with to win the starting job and be your everyday left back starter in 2018.