#10 Xavier Arreaga
Realio’s rating: 6.13 in 15 appearances
Community rating: 5.89
Regular Season: 6.13 in 15 appearances
MOTM = 0 High = 8 Low = 4
Arreaga was very good when he played, but was only rated 15 times this year due to a combination of injury and international play/quarantine. Most glaring was his absence from the playoffs, and he was sorely missed. Xavier’s line-splitting passes greatly increase the Sounders’ ability to play up tempo and press, while his defense remains above average. In his last eight appearances for Seattle, he averaged 6.875 in many consistently strong showings in a row, a full point higher than anyone who started in his place.
What I liked: Xavi is smooth on the ball, showing excellent touch and confidence in possession. He is exceptional at linking up in a positive manner from the defensive third. Head up, he consistently looks for the vertical pass, shunning the safe drop or square pass in lieu of the forward aggressive ball that opens up the field and translates into offense for Seattle. He combines this with a strong physical presence and speed that allow the Sounders to press when he is on the field. He covers well to the width or across the middle, and is very aggressive pressing past midfield against opponents.
What I didn’t like: When things went bad for Xavi, they went very bad. He earned two 4 grades and a 5 over the course of four games in the MLSIB tournament and immediately after as he went through a slump, and was perhaps still in preseason shape. When he is pressured into intense 1-v-1 defending, he can pick the wrong confrontation point and may compound that by dangerously diving in after being beat. This leads him to commit questionable fouls, often resulting in memorable defensive moments. He should be more willing to trust teammates: avoid charging in recklessly, attempting to make hero plays when a more cautious approach would allow others to support. Xavier had incredibly bad luck as well, often getting called for phantom fouls, and he needs to work on his “innocent, it wasn’t me posture/look/shrug” conveying guilt after borderline plays.
Moving forward: Arreaga should lock down the starting left center back position next to Yeimar for the foreseeable future. If he remains heathy, he should be part of a dominant central defense for 2021 and beyond. As long as he can limit his big mistakes that open the door for the coaches to tinker with other lineup choices, Xavi should be penciled in as a starter and expectations should follow.
#9 Gustav Svensson
Realio’s rating: 6.29 in 14 appearances
Community rating: 6.44
Regular Season: 6.25 in 12 appearances — Playoffs: 6.50 in 2 appearances
MOTM = 1 High = 7 Low = 5
Seattle’s dependable Swede had a limited impact this season, missing long periods to go play for his national team. When he was in Seattle, he usually started in the defensive midfield (except when he didn’t) and provided his usual above-average play. Although he didn’t have any particularly stand-out matches, he also rarely struggled, instead consistently facilitating the transition play for Seattle and defending strongly. In 2020 the Goose played much more defensively, allowing his central defensive midfielder partner and the wide fullbacks to roam forward while hanging back to cover. This resulted in only nine shots all season, without recording a goal or assist in the regular season.
What I liked: Gustav was a steady presence across the back, freeing up teammates to get forward. This released Cristian Roldan or João Paolo to overload the offense as well as facilitating the wings to overlap with abandon. Often dropping back in between the center backs, Svensson transitioned into a sweeper at times. He also opened up the field using his customary long switches, impacting the offense from a very deep-lying position. When given a chance to impact the season late in the Western Conference Final, Svensson flew into the game in the 77th and directly created two scores. “THE GOOSE WAS LOOSE in the 94th, as he soared into the box and majestically flicked home the game winner. It takes a star to get into that position and execute, and Svensson found a gorgeous Lodeiro corner and went nothing but net to send Seattle on. This was the second goal directly attributed to his aerial danger, as he forced the error on Raúl’s goal moments before.”
What I didn’t like: Svensson missed many games this year, twice missing four-game blocks and only appearing in two matches in the playoffs. He was productive in his playoff time, and it’s unfortunate that he got Covid and wasn’t able to play more, because the dominoes that fell lineup-wise were significant. Gustav never seemed to earn “every match starter” consideration, even though he was strong nearly every time out. I would have liked to see him combine better with JP, but instead there were a number of times where their positioning and playstyle were redundant. The amount of time off for illness and traveling combined to limit his starts.
Moving forward: Seattle had an abundance of talent at the defensive midfield position with João arriving, but Svensson is now out of contract. While there is a chance he returns, we have to assume that the Goose will be flying on, perhaps heading back to Sweden to finish his career at home. If that happens, he will have arrived in odd circumstances, played his way onto his national team picture, won an MLS Cup, and been one of the all-time best Sounders interviews.
Realio’s rating: 6.41 in 27 appearances
Community rating: 6.36
Regular Season: 6.35 in 23 appearances — Playoffs: 6.75 in 4 appearances
MOTM = 2 High = 8 Low = 5
Nouhou was a steady player for Seattle all year long, making a team-high 27 appearances and showing significant development on the offensive side of the ball. Long known to be a great defensive player, this year he looked increasingly comfortable getting forward in support of the attack, showcasing an improved cross, and better understanding of the offensive timing needed for overlapping. Defensively, he locked down his side nearly every match as a 1-v-1 defender, leading the fullbacks in tackles while improving on his backside support.
What I liked: Back-to-back MOTM awards for Nouhou came against both Cascadia rivals late in the regular season. This stellar play sealed his starting position and he rode this into the playoffs, where he had the second-highest improvement of the starters between regular and postseason scores. When Nouhou is “on” offensively, he can create chances by flying up the wide left and crossing into dangerous areas. He ended with a single assist but was excruciatingly close on many others and had comparable creation numbers to those from Kelvin Leerdam. He also improved his ability to break a press, finding cleaner passes and working into wide positions that supported the central playmakers better while also dribbling into open central spaces instead of being locked onto the sideline. Defensively, there was no better 1-v-1 defender in the league, with the left back locking down his side nearly every time out.
What I didn’t like: Nouhou was less “everything soccer, all at once” this season, showing a more mature play that translated into a starting spot, but he still often struggled to combine with Morris ahead of him and continued to showcase hesitant play often. Jordan needs space and the ball, and while Nouhou improved his runs, he still ran into bad tactical spaces or choked out supporting runs. With Seattle utilizing intricate passing to set up vertical runs from the width, Nouhou’s chaotic movement was often a detriment if he moved too far inside. The biggest improvement he should make is learning where to go when the original frantic charge up field in wide attack ends, as he can get lost and irrelevant. Defensively, he got cocky a few times, showing perhaps a bit too much confidence in his strong defending skills and being greedy in possession.
Moving forward: Nouhou has earned himself the starting left back spot, and neither Joevin Jones nor Brad Smith made good arguments to take it back from him. He should continue to develop his attacking skills, concentrating on tactical positioning and decision making. Defensively, he has been strong for years now, but can also learn from his big mistakes. Nouhou still has a very high ceiling and room for growth, which should excite Sounders fans.