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Sounder at Heart Newcomer of the Year: Xavier Arreaga

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Clear eyes, tucked shirt, can’t lose.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

It wasn’t exactly a banner year for Seattle Sounders newcomers, but Xavier Arreaga appears to be a keeper after a rough start. That’s why our readers named him the 2019 Sounder at Heart Newcomer of the Year with 62.5% of the vote. The 2019 Young Player of the Year, Danny Leyva, grabbed nearly 23%, and returnee Joevin Jones also managed to earn just over 12% of the vote.

Arreaga was signed in May as the long-term replacement for Chad Marshall. His status as a Designated Player meant there would be expectations for him to play, but he was coming into a team that already had The Greatest Centerback in MLS History, and two international-caliber CBs on TAM contracts. He wasn’t supposed to be relied upon in 2019, but rather with an eye toward the future. Then Chad got hurt and retired, and Román Torres was suspended for 10 games, and Arreaga had to step into a more prominent role.

The team played 25 games between Arreaga’s first appearance and the final, and he appeared in 17 of them while making 13 starts. In the games he played, the team went 9-5-3, including the playoffs and final. He had some up-and-down performances, some of that as a result of the lack of cohesion and chemistry as line-ups changed and Arreaga acclimated to a new league. As the season progressed, though, Arreaga showed why the Sounders were so high on him. His best game came in the Conference Finals as he played a huge role in Brian Schmetzer’s game plan to shut down Carlos Vela and the potent LAFC attack. Arreaga’s physical play and aggressiveness in pursuit of the ball were essential in that win, racking up seven clearances, three recoveries, one block, one interception, and one tackle.

Arreaga’s season may have had a bit of a cloud over it in the minds of some after he got sent off in back-to-back appearances — it’s worth noting that both occasions involved two yellow cards where at least one caution was pretty questionable — but his performances in the run to the MLS Cup showed that he could ride the line between physical and aggressive play and being a possible liability. Beyond his dominant performance against LAFC, he also subbed on against RSL in the prior round for an injured Torres to help the team earn a shut-out.

Kayla Mehring / Sounder at Heart

As the season progressed, Arreaga grew into his role, became more comfortable and confident within the team, and proved his ability to adapt to the players around him, including developing an improved partnership with Kim, in spite of the two being such similar players. One of the main traits that the team values in both Kim and Arreaga is their ability with the ball, both their passing and their dribbling. Arreaga’s passing was especially strong, completing just shy of 91% of his passes. His passing at medium distances — 5 to 25 yards — was nearly perfect, with a 95% completion rate, only missing a total of 16 passes at that distance. Almost more impressive was Arreaga’s long passing. He completed 86% of his passes that traveled farther than 25 yards, often breaking lines and creating opportunities.

At 25 years old, the Ecuadorian centerback is likely to be a cornerstone of the Sounders defense for years to come. As the team competes for multiple trophies in 2020, hopefully Arreaga’s pristine passing and physical prowess will become as recognizable as his tucked-in jersey and bright yellow undershirt.