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Seattle Sounders vs. 2017: End-of-season player ratings, #1

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V-Rod was the highest-rated Sounder over 11 games. Can he keep it up in 2018?

#1 Victor Rodriguez – 7.00 | Community – 6.93

In something of an upset, the newcomer Victor Rodriguez burst on the scene midseason and ended 2017 as the highest cumulative rated player from Realio’s Ratings. Over the course of his 11 appearances, Rodriguez earned a clean 7.00 rating and was a consistent top performer as he acclimated to Seattle and MLS. Similar to Lodeiro before him, he arrived onto the team and immediately started earning above-league-average grades—until the cup final. Who knows, V-Rod could even increase his effectiveness with a full offseason and time to train with a lineup that is relatively unchanged heading into 2018.

The first thing I wrote about him was on August 26:

“What we can expect is a highly technical, quick-thinking player who should seamlessly integrate with Nico and Clint’s intelligent play. Victor can enter the middle and play quick passes, but also has the intelligence to keep his spacing on the width. He was integral in using Nouhou appropriately, and he offers both great service on free kicks and dangerous direct-on-goal shooting. His vision and ability to see runs will make through balls from his wing a viable option again, and it will be important that Seattle keep spacing both width- and depth-wise on the field. This player looks very exciting and has the ability to unlock a lot of underused potential from the players around him.”

All of the above remains true. V-Rod is an incredibly technical player, with a smooth combination of foot skills and deft movement which make him an excellent fit in the Seattle lineup. He has no problem combining intricately with Dempsey and Lodeiro to work the ball through the midfield but can also use a strong burst of speed to create separation for his own shot. At times near the end of the year, certain Sounders players looked to be at an entirely different level of play, and Rodriguez fit in with that group perfectly, showing a mastery of positional awareness.

Usually starting on the left of the midfield, V-Rod naturally floats to the middle to link up and possesses strong attacking instincts. He isn’t afraid to be goal-direct and should be able to improve upon his 2017 stats of three goals and three assists. His defensive work rate is a bit underrated, and Rodriguez isn’t afraid to come back and help a fullback or release an overlap around him. Victor’s ability to support midfield attacks allows great tactical flexibility, and he played his best games with Nouhou behind him.

A snippet of the bad:

It took some time for Rodriguez to get fitness, and his strong first half against LA Galaxy on September 10 was followed by a less effective second:

“Victor looked tired in the second half and wasn’t able to get involved in much offensively, other than a perfect 79th minute cross squandered by Bruin. Rodriguez was able to get out of trouble a few times but needs to (similarly to Nico) not try to dribble out of problems and make things worse. He was pushed off the ball very easily at times and Seattle needs to remember he is on the field and use him more often.”

Even while struggling in this match, V-Rod still had a fantastic six tackles in support of his left back (Oniel Fisher). This was one of the first games where we saw how willing and able Victor is to play defense, something that is very welcome from wide attacking areas.

Victor got a 30-minute substitute stint and showed unfamiliarity with his teammates against Dallas a week later:

“V-Rod entered and immediately attacked the center of the field on the dribble, which helped open space. His 65th minute cross to the far post was nearly connected, and his 70th minute run across the box opened a ton of space for Dempsey to get off a shot. When Nouhou got hurt in the 86th, it was an alert Rodriguez who covered adequately on defense. This game looked much better for Seattle after he subbed in, but he still looked out of sync with the personnel around him.”

Again, the injection of Victor was a positive thing, but it often takes time for players to acclimate to each other. In this game especially, Will Bruin struggled to make runs that combined with what V-Rod was trying to do.

A snippet of the good:

For the second match in a row against Vancouver, Rodriguez rated an 8 on September 27:

“This was a fantastic display of goal-dangerous soccer orchestrated by the offensive stars of the team. V-Rod was in the middle of everything, and nearly every touch he took was toward putting the ball in the net. Starting on the left wing and playing more in the center after the half, Rodriguez was part of a very fluid attack that was impossible to stop, floating from side to side and attacking any gaps in the Vancouver defense. While spraying passes and linking near flawlessly going forward, V-Rod had 78 percent passing, three shots, a key pass, a huge opening goal and again he impressed with some solid defending.”

This game was peak V-Rod. Starting wide and cutting in on his deadly right foot he combined flawlessly with Dempsey and Lodeiro, both creating and scoring goals. His off-ball movement makes his already quick feet a dominant force in tight areas.

In his first of likely many MOTM awards, Victor was the leader in a shelling of Dallas on October 15:

“Rodriguez played spectacularly, involved in nearly every Sounders attack either from dropping into the middle to help build the play, making darting goal-dangerous runs, or serving passes into the path of onrushing teammates. He put both his shots on target, scored a goal, had what looked to be an assist, and was basically unmarkable for Dallas the entire time he was on the pitch. His connection with teammates (especially Dempsey) was evident, and his passing and movement was simply beautiful. While doing all this, he still managed to be a solid contributor on defense, chipping in with three tackles and assisting the press. His first MOTM award as a Sounder is indicative of a guy who linked a lot of other talented players together and drove the team to a quicker, attacking mindset.”

A lot has been said about Seattle’s need for more speed, pointing at Jones’ departure among other things. I think Victor is sold short on this. While not a burner like Morris, his short burst acceleration is quite good, and perhaps more importantly, his anticipation and high soccer IQ makes him even more “soccer fast.” As noted, his quick thinking and ability to control and move the ball urges Seattle into a faster team mindset that easily offsets any personal footspeed deficit. In this match Rodriguez did it all, quarterbacking the team while cutting incisive passes through the Dallas midfield and defense all night.

A high-flying Seattle offense demolished Houston in the playoffs at home, with V-Rod earning MOTM from the community:

“This guy may be the key to unlocking the full potential of Seattle’s offense. He showed how beautifully this team can play with him as a focal point. V-Rod was 34/38 passing, constantly pushing the ball forward into dangerous positions while opening the scoring himself. Rodriguez truly did it all, leading the team with five tackles to boot! I am so impressed with his tactical ability: it has led him to seamlessly combine with the attackers around him and be nearly unstoppable ... I noted his quick, one-touch passing in the first minute, but most remarkable is how he works tactically in the Sounders system. If you watch, it’s as if he has a 12-yard rope tied to Nico and Clint, never getting closer than that but constantly drifting into the spaces that they create. It’s uncanny how effortlessly he moves It is such a joy to watch these Sounders combine in space, and the creativity added by V-Rod is dumping nitrous in the tank.”

I added these quotes to demonstrate what this guy can bring going forward in 2018. Nico, Clint, and Victor can combine to do magical things. That Houston game was a great illustration of the free-flowing offense that is created by these three cerebral players working off each other in space. Add in Morris’ field stretching ability and Roldan’s creativity on either side, and Seattle has an enormously exciting group that could be utterly dominant.

There will be plenty of debate about Rodriguez being #1 on the cumulative ratings, but he earned the grades he received. Other than a clunker in the final, this guy was consistently one of, if not the best player on the field for Seattle. I would not be surprised if he was again vying for top player next year, especially if he’s able to build on his growing connection with the other quality pieces around him.

Victor Rodriguez likely starts for Seattle as a wide or central attacker in nearly every match. It’s uncertain whether there are fitness concerns, but V-Rod’s effectiveness did not wane coming in as a substitute option. He’ll likely play in every game for which he’s available, but could see some rotation through differing roles.