Through 10-plus seasons in MLS, the Seattle Sounders have had no shortage of very good players. Going into the all-time Best XI discussion, we expected there to be some hearty disagreement. In the end, though, the 15 Sounder at Heart staffers pretty much agreed on most of the lineup. Using the Sounders’ official limitations — they only allowed users to pick a 3-4-3 formation — nine of the 11 players appeared on 73 percent of the ballots.
So without further ado, here is the Sounder at Heart all-time Best XI:
No position is arguably deeper — with three players who have each logged at least one historically awesome season by MLS standards — but that didn’t stop our panel from a unanimous selection.
Stefan Frei (15 votes): Even if there’s some room for debate, this should not be a controversial choice. Not only is Frei the current goalkeeper — and let’s be honest, there’s some recency bias with stuff like this — he’s also the longest tenured goalkeeper in Sounders history. This is Frei’s sixth season as a starter and he’s the only one to have won a MLS Cup or a Supporters’ Shield. He also has an Open Cup trophy to go along with the MLS silverware. You can also fairly argue that he probably faced tougher opposition than either of his fulltime predecessors. It does seem fair to point out, though, that both Kasey Keller and Michael Gspurning were slightly better in terms of save percentage, shutout percentage and goals against average.
This was easily our most contest positional battle. Eleven different players got at least one vote and 10 of them were on at least two ballots.
Chad Marshall (15): By whatever standard you choose to examine, Marshall was the best defender to ever suit up for the Sounders and it’s not really even close. Marshall played here parts of six seasons and was the team’s best defender every year and by all rights probably should have been named MLS Defender of the Year two or three times, rather than just once.
Leo Gonzalez (8): The left back surely benefits from his long tenure, having played parts of seven seasons here. Even in years he wasn’t an automatic starter, he was a reliable presence off the bench to help lock down games.
DeAndre Yedlin (5): Even though he only played here two seasons, he was the Sounders’ first Homegrown Player and has since gone on to establish himself as a regular with the United States national team and as a Premier League starter. He also likely benefited from the rest of the vote being somewhat split among Torres (four), Jeff Parke (three), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (three) and Joevin Jones (two).
Lots of good choices, but our voters really coalesced around this group pretty strong.
Osvaldo Alonso (15): “El Corazon” was obviously the easiest, as he’s the longest tenured player in Sounders history with more than 300 appearances and nearly 27,000 minutes across all competitions. He was also arguably the best defensive midfielder in MLS history (yet somehow only made one Best XI team).
Nicolás Lodeiro (14): The Uruguayan was an equally easy choice, as he’s consistently been one of the league’s best attacking midfielder during each of his four seasons in Seattle. His 44 assists are already a club record and his 21 goals are sixth most.
Cristian Roldan (13): The youngest player on our team ended up being an uncontroversial choice as well, but he was probably helped a bit by recency bias. That said, despite being known more as a defensive player only seven players in club history have more than his 17 goals and only six have more than his 17 assists. He’s also now getting regular call-ups with the national team.
Mauro Rosales (11): A bit of a reclamation project when he arrived in 2011, he can hardly be considered a controversial choice, either. But his inclusion was at least not as automatic as the others. Brad Evans was the most common player to edge out Rosales. Rosales’ peak, though, probably fairly outweighs Evans’ long tenure. From 2011-12 he was among the best midfielders in MLS, which coincided with some the Sounders’ most exciting teams. His 34 assists are still tied for second on the Sounders all-time list and he’s got 12 goals to go along with them.
This promised to be a tough one, if for no other reason than Raúl Ruidíaz making quite the impression in such a short time and Eddie Johnson enjoying a career renaissance during his two season in rave green. It turned out that, at least on our panel, the choices weren’t that tough.
Obafemi Martins (15): The Nigerian’s universal selection should surprise no one. More than any other player to suit up in Seattle, Martins had streaks of being simply unplayable. Martins was only here parts of three seasons and only made 72 league appearances but still racked up 40 goals and 16 assists. His 2014 campaign in which he had 17 goals and 13 assists still stands out as the best ever offensive season by a Sounders player.
Fredy Montero (12): The team’s first breakout star is here for more than just sentimental reasons. Not only is he tied for the most goals in franchise history, he’s got 13 more in other competitions, which no one else can match. He also has 34 regular season assists. In each of his four seasons in Seattle, Montero had at least 20 combined goals and assists in all competitions.
Clint Dempsey (11): Dempsey never quite reached Martins’ performance height, but arguably the best offensive player in American history did play more seasons here (six) than on any other team. His 47 goals are tied for the most in team history and his 28 assists are fourth most. He also has the team record for most playoff goals (six) even though he didn’t play a single minute during their 2016 run to the title.
There’s a pretty good chance this vote would come out different if it were to be held in a year or two. If Raúl Ruidíaz continues to score at a rate of .75 goals per 90, he would be almost impossible not to keep off. It would also be interesting to see how this would turn out if we had been allowed to choose our own formations or if we’d had to pick two center backs and just one forward.
This team is obviously never going to take the field, but to say it would create some tactical problems is probably a bit of an understatement — both for the opposition and the coaching staff. Suffice it to say, it would not look like any 3-4-3 that I’ve ever seen.
My suspicion is that you’d have to set it up in a way that allows Yedlin freedom to get forward and effectively swap Rosales and Dempsey between the forward and midfielder lines. I think i’d deploy them in a sort of sweeper-stopper formation with Marshall as the sweeper and Alonso as a stopper.
What about you? How would you change things if you had more freedom in terms of positions? How might you deploy this group?