#21 Handwalla Bwana
Realio’s rating: 5.077 in 13 appearances
Community rating: 5.40
Rankinator ranking: #16
MOTM = 0 High = 7 Low = 4
Bwana was a pretty big unknown coming into this season, yet he was thrust into eight of the first 10 matches for Seattle, as well as some CCL contests. This seemed to overwhelm him, and he had a rollercoaster of results in the ratings. After an injury, he was sidelined until called into the last four matches of the regular season. He even featured in the playoffs, where he showed an improved level of play.
What I liked: We got a glimpse of the player Bwana could be against Chivas, but he was tremendous (rating a 7) against Toronto. Not only did he have the game-winning goal, but he had a strong overall match highlighted by decisive offensive actions, passing, and dribbles. This is good evidence that he may be a big game player. (See: playoff penalty kick.)
What I didn’t like: When asked to do more than face up a defender and juke him out of his shin guards, Bwana often got lost trying to combine with the intricate movements of his fellow Sounders attackers. When lost, he tended to forget about defending from the wing, which is an issue.
Moving forward: Handwalla has a very high ceiling and is one of the few players on the team willing and able to “try shit.” Moving into next season, he needs to become more than just an isolation/1-v-1 offensive threat and develop more complementary skills to his already MLS-ready talent. Bwana should fight to be an option every match.
#20 Will Bruin
Realio’s rating: 5.367 in 30 appearances
Community rating: 5.72
Rankinator ranking: #10
MOTM = 2 High = 8 Low = 4
Bruin fans can point to his 30 appearances (tied for third most on the team), his multiple MOTMs and his goals scored to show he’s a strong player. If you aren’t a fan, you’re remembering the six games where he rated a 4, completely struggling to offer anything at an MLS level. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle; Will is a good-to-great complementary player at this point in his career, but struggles when asked to carry the team. He scored some absolutely huge goals for Seattle this year, and he also struggled for long stretches.
What I liked: Bruin has that scorer’s nose for finding the ball and forcing it into the goal. It’s rarely super pretty, but his knack for doing exactly that helped keep Seattle’s season afloat long enough for reinforcements to arrive. The late Minnesota goal was fun, but my favorite strike from Bruin was in Toronto. It was masterfully taken and completely energized a struggling Seattle team when they most needed it.
What I didn’t like: Time and again Bruin missed the big chance that could have made a difference. Whether it was the number of headers he put off-frame, good runs that ended in poor finishing, or just missing a cross, Bruin was not effective frequently. When asked to play up front with Ruidiaz or Dempsey, he was often in the way. Or, in an odd role reversal, the smaller, more creative player was holding up the ball so Bruin could make a lumbering attempt to get on the end of a through ball.
Moving forward: This rating shows a clear backup role, and I think that’s fair for Will. He likely would have had higher numbers in shorter stints and more time when Seattle was winning. Bruin has a knack for scoring big goals, but I’m not sure adding him to a game late without adjusting tactics works. His salary is pretty high, but his g/90 and being American mean he’s a great value for the team. We should not change the lineup to get him in the game (remember that second forward talk?) but Bruin is the kind of veteran Seattle needs on their bench.
#19 Jordan McCrary
Realio’s rating: 5.438 in 16 appearances
Community rating: 5.04
Rankinator ranking: #19
MOTM = 0 High = 6 Low = 4
McCrary started off the season as an unknown brought in to replace the departed Oniel Fisher. Jordan’s ratings were a little higher than Oniel’s from last season but ultimately similar to Fisher cumulatively over his Sounders tenure. He is two years younger and showed a willingness to work hard in every practice, which helped limit very low ratings.
Something I liked: The differences between Fisher and McCrary were small, but I liked Jordan’s consistency. He rarely got low grades and could be counted on to come into every match and give a steady performance. His speed and ability to get into the attack fits well with the Seattle formation and play style.
Something I didn’t like: Although he is a reliable backup, his best performance of the year was only about MLS-average rated, showing a lack of the large upside you want in youngish bench options. I would have liked to have seen a match or two where he showed an elite skill.
Moving forward: His speed and instincts are good. Although McCrary is a proven MLS backup, he’ll have to show above average ability at the position in order to beat out other talented young players with a ton of upside but without his polish.
#18 Clint Dempsey
Realio’s rating: 5.500 in 14 appearances
Community rating: 5.90
Rankinator ranking: #17
MOTM = 0 High = 7 Low = 5
Most people would not have predicted Dempsey’s ratings would drop from 6.727 in 33 matches and seven MOTM awards in 2017 to below average in 2018. After his performance last year, including looking strong in the playoffs, it made sense to bring Dempsey back, but this choice ultimately didn’t work out. Clint showed glimpses of quality, but he was also exposed as a player who desperately needed the support of those around him, and without a strong team, he struggled.
Something I liked: With Nicolás Lodeiro behind him, Dempsey showed a quality match in a 1-1 draw with Chicago midseason. I wrote “I think this version of Clint would work well with a DP forward who could make smart, fast runs off his movement.” Clint never really got the chance to prove me right, but I sure wonder what he could have done as a sub in a few games when we were attempting to break a bunker down and were trying to decide between Bwana and Waylon Francis.
Something I didn’t like: Clint has always been a positional abnormality, and this Seattle team composition proved to be a terrible fit for him. He and Nico often found themselves in the same area, and Bruin was a terrible option to play in front of Clint, offering neither holdup play, defense-stretching ability, nor tight interchange passing. When the field got compressed with the Morris injury, Dempsey became too redundant and unable to produce, instead being a detriment at times.
Moving forward: Clint likely wasn’t as bad as you thought he was, but he was nowhere near his production from a year ago, and the team was better after he left. Part of that was Nico stepping into a complete leadership role, part was getting the striker we desperately needed, part was getting healthy, and some was removing Clint and his mobility issues from the field. It was a quiet career end for a player who was as good as any American, ever.
#17 Magnus Wolff Eikrem
Realio’s rating: 5.533 in 15 appearances
Community rating: 5.14
Rankinator ranking: #22
MOTM = 0 High = 8 Low = 4
Everyone had high hopes for the Wolff, and rightfully so, as he was the most hyped off-season acquisition for the Sounders. He showed early glimpses of talent, linking up nicely in the home Santa Tecla match and looking the part of an attacking midfielder in a substitute appearance on opening day of MLS play. Eikrem seemed to struggle with the defensive role that Coach Schmetzer wanted from the wide midfielders. He wasn’t able to keep up physically in the role he was asked to play, which led to “hustle” guys like Alex Roldan getting playing time that a more effective Wolff may have demanded.
What I liked: At Toronto: “The difference between players in MLS is often pretty small, with certain guys having somewhat more speed, or control, or vision. What often sets players apart is their ability to do something no one else on the field can do, and in that moment, completely change a game. That is what Wolff did in this match in the 25th, showing off the most dynamic individual play of the year by a Sounder. It was absolutely beautiful. Opening space wide, he received a pass from Roldan and charged forward, cherry picking Bradley before nutmegging Marky Delgado. This alone was a startling display of dribbling genius, but he followed it up with a breathtaking pass, inch perfect to Bruin. This assist was so lovely — it beat the last defender for Toronto while at the same time putting Will directly on goal. Any further to the near side and it likely gets blocked by Van Der Wiel, and anything further to the far side pulls the forward away from goal and forces him to win a footrace and potentially hinders the shot angle. This pass was incredible.”
What I didn’t like: The team composition and coaching demands didn’t allow for any luxury players or finesse guys, and the combination of Wolff/Bruin/Dempsey just didn’t work. Without a Lodeiro or Roldan work rate, Eikrem was a forward-thinking attacker who got benched and ultimately shipped off mid-season without getting to play with a full, healthy team around him. Like Dempsey, there may have been something there, but he simply ran out of time without showing reason to keep him.
Moving forward: Wolff is now in his home town of Molde and won’t be returning to Seattle. He is a good example of the importance of players matching the coaching. While clearly a talented player, Eikrem didn’t fit what the coaching staff wanted from him.