#15 Shane O’Neill
Realio’s rating: 5.50 in 24 appearances
Community rating: 5.78
Regular Season: 5.50 in 20 appearances — Playoffs: 5.50 in 4 appearances
MOTM = 0 High = 7 Low = 4
Shane O’Neill was the poster boy for expectation rating this year. He came in quietly as a third or fourth string MLS centerback and honestly played like one for most of the year — except he started in nearly every match he was available. He often did well in the back, but never showed a dominant MLS ability. O’Neill is a strong tackler, and at times produced a nice forward long ball. His high floor but low ceiling and remarkable consistency kept him a trusted piece for Coach Schmetzer, who utilized him with abandon to the tune of 24 appearances, with over half of those starts.
What I liked: Ostensibly replacing Jonathan Campbell on the roster, Shane played at a much higher level than the guy whose roster spot he took. O’Neill’s ability to play with a revolving cast of players around him and consistently churn out MLS replacement-level play was essential to a Sounders team that was playing multiple games a week throughout the year. He ended the season with nearly 90 percent pass completion overall, with a sparkling 96 percent on medium length (15-30 yard) balls, which allowed him to stretch the defense some from the back. Always a willing tackler, Shane added some grit in the back, often sliding to the wing to clean out attacks with oppressive violence.
What I didn’t like: While O’Neill was consistently okay, the upside just wasn’t there outside of pretty good defending. His cumulative overall rating displays his ceiling as “MLS average” at best, and he was consistently worse than that when analyzing tactics and passing. Until scoring a game-winning header against Dallas in the playoffs, Shane had zero above-average ratings all year. His awful positioning and struggles to put the ball to teammates in advantageous positions show a lack of fundamental technical skills that better players exhibit every match. Although he limited his big errors most of the season, his multitude of small mistakes and decision making kept his game impact neutral or negative.
Moving forward: Shane O’Neill is one of the better bench options Seattle has had at the center back position, but any competitive Sounders team should be looking at vastly reducing his appearances, as his very low ceiling is apparent. His numbers were more like what you expect from a sub, not a starter, and Seattle should keep that in mind. Next year his expectations should be to be one of the better back ups at his position in the league.
#14 Alex Roldan
Realio’s rating: 5.52 in 24 appearances
Community rating: 5.94
Regular Season: 5.47 in 20 appearances — Playoffs: 5.75 in 4 appearances
MOTM = 0 High = 8 Low = 4
Alex Roldan was one of the best surprises for Sounders this year. A walk-on at age 24, he not only played himself into minutes, but showed tangible growth as a player. As the ratings show, he is still not quite what Seattle wants as a starter, but the fact that it is even a discussion is a pleasant surprise and a testament to his hard work and development in the off season and throughout 2020. Alex started every playoff game and increased his level of play considerably in them from the regular season, even considering a poor performance in his last match of the year.
What I liked: Roldan the younger worked hard and improved immensely from prior seasons for Seattle. For bench guys like him, it’s important to see an ability to rate above average, to show potential to be a starter level player at some point. Alex did this on four occasions, with the best coming in the playoff match against LAFC. His top attribute from wide attacking areas is his above average service, and he hits incredible crosses into dangerous areas with consistency. My notes on him from LAFC “A-Rold has always had nice touch, but against LAFC he was incredible. Nearly every time he got into the attacking half of the field, he had his head up, dialing up crosses perfectly into dangerous areas. He led Seattle with four key passes, continually creating offense from right back, and showing massive growth in decision making and execution. His ability to find Raúl Ruidíaz from curling wide service was transcendent.” This is a great fit for how Seattle likes to play their wide backs on the offensive end of the field.
What I didn’t like: It’s good to be able to pass from the back, but a right back needs to defend better than Alex showed. Nearly all his negative marks were due to poor defending, and he remains a below average tackler and positional defender, while struggling some to win aerials. Since that is the main role for outside backs, he must vastly improve his work on the defensive side of the ball. A late game against a black and yellow team exposed his offensive aggressiveness and defensive failings; until he improves his 1-v-1 defending and ability to support defensively, he will remain at best an attacking substitute.
Moving forward: I don’t think anyone expected Alex to start MLS Cup Final for Seattle. It is a huge accomplishment to go from unemployed to solid depth piece, and there are glimpses of starting level play. This would be unrealistic based on prior years, but a suddenly high upside means Roldan comes into camp next year with a clear path to greater playing time that should coincide with continued growth in skill.
#13 Will Bruin
Realio’s rating: 5.61 in 18 appearances
Community rating: 6.06
Regular Season: 5.56 in 16 appearances — Playoffs: 6.00 in 2 appearances
MOTM = 0 High = 7 Low = 5
Bruin returned from knee surgery and picked up right where he left off — rating almost exactly the same as he has each year with Seattle. He is an incredibly effective bench option. Will struggles to contribute in longer stints, but is able to enter a match and immediately change the team for the better. His size belies his playstyle, which is much more technical and intricate than your typical big forward.
What I liked: Will can be instant impact upon subbing into a match. His first appearance was a sub against LAFC and he scored four minutes later, making a back post run and first-timing a cross. He showed excellent ability to combine with Ruidíaz in short shifts, consistently making incredible off ball runs. Will’s movement opened up offensive space and he was excellent in flicking on and creating, or attacking space offensively. Coming in late and making an impact off the ball is an underrated talent that Will showed nearly every appearance.
What I didn’t like: Bruin maximized his influence in sub appearances, but only scored a single goal and had a single assist. For all his running around and making space, in 550+ minutes you want a forward to put the ball in the net. It wasn’t just lack of scoring production: he only had four shots on goal in that time, and he needs to be much more goal dangerous. As a starter, Bruin often failed to produce at all, instead just being average to below average and struggling as a single forward in the Sounders’ preferred 4-2-3-1. His propensity to crowd out Jordan Morris’ space, in particular, was very apparent, and this both limited Jordan’s ability to attack up the left, and constantly put Bruin into his or Nico’s space.
Moving forward: No one expects Bruin to create the kind of space for teammates that Ruidíaz does, but this season showed that while effective as a substitute who can overload areas and make smart runs off Raúl, Bruin’s starting days look to be over. His ability to come in and provide a spark is fantastic, but as his minutes increase, Will’s impact seems to decrease. That is okay from a Sounders perspective, and Will is not far out from an intense knee surgery and rehab that might be influencing his productivity, but he appears to be a luxury substitute player for a deep team going forward.
#12 Joevin Jones
Realio’s rating: 5.65 in 17 appearances
Community rating: 5.95
Regular Season: 5.92 in 13 appearances — Playoffs: 4.75 in 4 appearances
MOTM = 1 High = 9 Low = 3
Fun fact: Joevin Jones has never scored cumulatively above MLS average in my ratings, and somehow this year was his highest season total. After being beaten out for left back minutes, Joevin was a player without a role coming into the year. In 2020 Jones was asked to mainly play right midfield, finding some success last season there as a possession guy who inverted on the wing and attempted to combine centrally with teammates, and continued similarly this year. He had two goals (both coming in a single game), and two assists for the Sounders.
What I liked: When the planets aligned for Seattle to play open, free-flowing soccer against bad teams, Jones looked good. The 7-1 win against SJ showed his ability to be aggressive, creating space for others with pace while possessing the ability to unlock the entire defense with a slip through ball. Joevin has some of the best control of the ball in traffic on the team, constantly holding the ball under pressure and proved an asset later in the season as a way to move Cristian Roldan away from the wing. When Jones has a free role unburdened from defending, he can pop up in smart spots and works well moving off others into central areas.
What I didn’t like: His entire rating for the season was boosted by his 9 against San Jose when Seattle blew them out at home. Removing that single match and his 7 for an assist in a losing MLS Is Back match sub appearance against LAFC, Jones would have had a cumulative 5.33 rating on the season (good for 19th on the team). In the playoffs, Joevin Jones was flat out bad, averaging 4.75 which is dead last. This is a TAM guy who was well below MLS average during the year and actively terrible in the playoffs. His lack of effort on multiple occasions and ineffectiveness was nothing less than infuriating. Other than one good match, he looked awful, yet inexplicably kept getting trotted out to, well, trot around ineffectively.
Moving forward: I don’t see a realistic way for Jones to come back on anything near a TAM contract for this team, and if that’s not who he is (with its associated expectations), it’s hard to justify him being on the roster.
#11 Kelvin Leerdam
Realio’s rating: 6.00 in 26 appearances
Community rating: 6.16
Regular Season: 6.09 in 23 appearances — Playoffs: 5.33 in 3 appearances
MOTM = 1 High = 9 Low = 5
Leerdam quietly had a solid season before getting injured right before the playoffs and assuming a substitute role in the postseason. This dropped his ratings a bit, but Kelvin was a steady, dependable piece of the team who defended well, added some offensive support on the right, and had an overall solid season. He was good at picking his times to go forward, and he defended arduously alongside Yeimar for most of the season.
What I liked: Kelvin (like all Sounders) scored high against San Jose, but his lone MOTM award came in the previous match against Portland. Seattle lost, but he showed well with 78 largely attacking touches, three key passes, and a goal. Leerdam has been consistently goal-dangerous for the Sounders in his time here, and he found the back of the net three times on the season. He combined this with solid, consistent defensive effort on the right. His strong two-way play is in the upper tier of MLS and he leverages excellent experience to find both good defensive positioning, and ways to integrate into the attack.
What I didn’t like: Leerdam started nearly every time he was healthy, yet still had nine times this season when I rated him below MLS average. This is too many for a starter who’s paid as much as he is. Much of that can be attributed to the revolving door in front of him on the wing, but Leerdam took a step back and may be slowing down as he ages. This had a high impact on Seattle, as they only won a single match (Dallas playoff) and tied two of the nine times he played below average, showing a startling correlation between Kelvin’s struggles and the team’s.
Moving forward: Kelvin may be out of contract and Seattle is paying a lot for him, which may make him expendable. If the team wants predictable, consistent right back play, it would make sense to bring back Leerdam, but with Alex Roldan showing well as a backup and age/salary playing a part, it’s likely that the Sounders go in another direction.