#11 Román Torres
Realio’s rating: 6.14 in 21 appearances
Community rating: 6.26
Regular Season: 6.06 in 17 appearances - Playoffs: 6.50 in 4 appearances
MOTM = 0 High = 8 Low = 4
A strong post season pushed Torres past Chad Marshall for the 11th spot on this list, highlighted by an MLS cup-winning start. Torres started out the year competing with Kim for a starting spot next to Marshall and ended it competing with Xavier Arreaga for a starting spot next to Kim. Román was a vocal organizer for a team that thrived under strong player personalities and leadership.
What I liked: Big games pull Román into another level, and a huge match in the last game of the season against Minnesota saw him score his first non-penalty goal as a Sounder. This was an important game-winning tally that helped to earn Seattle a home MLS Cup.
What I didn’t like: Torres started out rough, improved as he got into shape, then had a 10-game suspension. He was excellent when he returned, but 10 games in the middle of the season is a huge amount of time to miss, and he hurt his team dearly with his absence.
Moving forward: Although he’s currently flying around the world looking for work, there is a possibility that his best earning potential is here in MLS, and while not likely, there is a chance he could return. In any event, he was a guy who helped get two titles in 4.5 years as a Sounder, and who always showed up for the big games.
#10 Kelvin Leerdam
Realio’s rating: 6.22 in 33 appearances
Community rating: 6.28
Regular Season: 6.10 in 29 appearances - Playoffs: 7.00 in 4 appearances
MOTM = 0 High = 8 Low = 4
Leerdam once again showed awesome durability, playing in the third most matches of any Sounder this year, and he added more attacking flair to his solid, if unspectacular, defending. Kelvin is a very dependable right back who dealt with a revolving door of players around him, yet had many strong performances, especially at the start of the year. The late summer and end of the year saw Leerdam fade in ratings, before picking up and improving each match of the playoffs.
What I liked: Leerdam himself suggested that he is a scorer and winger, and he backed this up in 2019 with a goal fest. His six goals and two assists paced the team for much of the year, and none was bigger than his tiebreaking tally in the MLS Cup Final. Showing an increased willingness this year to “have a crack,” Kelvin put a hard shot on frame that ended up in the back of the net. He didn’t have the silky-smooth combination play offense that Brad Smith had for Seattle, but Leerdam’s nose for goal and ability to be in the right spot at the right time was huge for the Sounders, who were hard to defend when guys like Leerdam get handfuls of goals.
What I didn’t like: There were a few games when Leerdam just looked off. Against LAFC he was quite poor, eliciting this quote: “Kelvin has a temper and is definitely an emotional guy. We’ve seen him get a petulant red. In this match he simply quit on his team. And whether it was on purpose or as simple as him checking out, I don’t care to ever see that lack of effort again.” There’s a fine line between intensity and overly-emotional, and in that instance, his competitiveness wasn’t channeled effectively.
Moving forward: Leerdam is coming back next year but it might be prudent for Seattle to start looking for his long-term replacement. The Sounders depend on a lot of athleticism from their outside backs and although he’s only 29, Kelvin didn’t attack up the right wing a lot this season. I’m not sure how much of that was due to the dominant left sided players, but right back is a position that might need an upgrade, especially if Leerdam starts 2020 out like his mid-2019 play.
#9 Kim Kee-hee
Realio’s rating: 6.27 in 34 appearances
Community rating: 6.38
Regular Season: 6.17 in 30 appearances - Playoffs: 7.00 in 4 appearances
MOTM = 0 High = 8 Low = 4
34 appearances for a center back shows a lot of durability and coach confidence. Kee-hee was good to great on nearly every appearance. Although he wasn’t as spectacular as last year combined with Marshall, Kim still put up a remarkably consistent body of work in 2019. There were only four times all year that he was deemed less than MLS average.
What I liked: Kim returned in 2019 assuming a role opposite Chad Marshall, and instead found himself shuttling back and forth across the backline, pairing with Marshall, Torres, SAS, Campbell, Svensson, and anyone else Seattle put back there. Each time he was the one to switch sides to accommodate the preference of his partners, and he did so well. This isn’t an easy task and in central defense, Kim was the one mainstay all year.
What I didn’t like: Everyone struggles with Zlatan, but the LAG rental really exposed Kim’s weaknesses. Although a big guy, Kee-Hee was completely man-handled physically, both bodied off the ball and jumped over on multiple occasions. Kim remains a liability in winning aerial duels at times.
Moving forward: It’s hard to tell if Kim will be back next season. He was protected in the expansion draft, and as of this writing hasn’t been signed by another team. That is good news for Seattle, who has offered him a deal and has familiarity on its side. A veteran like Kee-hee would likely be welcomed back with open arms to a Sounders team currently low on center backs, and if he returns, he’ll likely start in between Leerdam and Arreaga in 2020.
#8 Xavier Arreaga
Realio’s rating: 6.33 in 18 appearances
Community rating: 6.16
Regular Season: 6.27 in 15 appearances - Playoffs: 6.67 in 3 appearances
MOTM = 0 High = 8 Low = 5
Following Kim in the ratings is Arreaga, who was brought in mid-season with the expectation that he would be the center back of the future. We saw glimpses of greatness and some hiccups as this young Ecuadorian defender learned the league and his new city and team. It’s a shame we never got to see what he looked like next to Chad Marshall.
What I liked: Arreaga has more swagger than any center defender since Brad Evans, and I am here for it. When visiting “the greatest team of all time” in the playoffs, Xavier set the tone early and often, refusing to be intimidated or back down an inch to LAFC. His physical play and dominant defensive performance established him as the most intense player on the field, and Seattle rode this wave to victory.
What I didn’t like: It took a while for Xavier to get the hang of the league. He started off slowly, and Seattle didn’t win in the majority of his first few months in town. Arreaga got intermittent time, which led to a steep learning curve about the league. His physicality and aggression earned him two red cards in two appearances due to four yellow card fouls.
Moving forward: Arreaga turned 25 this September and looks poised to be written in pen at left center back for the next handful of years. His combination of speed and physicality is something other teams have to game plan for, and his silky-smooth ball skills and passing from the back are weapons that the Sounders can leverage into their build-up play designs.