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Seattle Sounders vs. 2020: End-of-season player ratings, #7-#5

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The defensive lynchpin and a couple besties.

#7 Stefan Frei

Realio’s rating: 6.52 in 27 appearances

Community rating: 6.94

Regular Season: 6.57 in 23 appearances — Playoffs: 6.25 in 4 appearances

MOTM = 4 High = 8 Low = 5

Stefan Frei continues to be a steady, excellent goalkeeper. Showcasing the remarkable resilience that has seen him miss a single match in the last three years, he was fit and ready for every game. Seattle gave up a goal a game this year, which when combined with scoring two goals per match added up to some very good numbers. Frei was a big part of that, organizing his defense and making the saves needed to keep his team in every single match.

What I liked: Frei is physically prepared for every match due to a fantastic physical fitness regimen and stellar training, and he’s gotten even more consistent with each season. If you give up a single goal a game, your team is almost always going to win, and that is what Frei did. He improved his foot skills this year as well, advancing his completion percentage and looking much more comfortable with the ball at his feet under duress.

What I didn’t like: While Frei’s goalkeeping didn’t lose any matches this year, I can’t remember any matches that he won for the team. In previous seasons, Stefan showed the ability to stand on his head and single-handedly will his team to points, and this year I don’t recall that. Stefan tied for the most MOTM’s for good reason: he was consistently good to great, but his awards were only in losing or tying games, and there wasn’t that signature game where it was all about the goalkeeping. He might be a victim of high expectations, but steady should be the minimum expectation, not the norm.

Moving forward: Frei makes it look easy, playing every match and being among the top of all MLS goalkeepers. It is a bit scary not knowing the depth behind him, but the way he trains and is available at a high level every match, it may not matter. Pencil him in for starting every game and being in contention for end of year awards.

#5 (TIE) Cristian Roldan

Realio’s rating: 6.56 in 27 appearances

Community rating: 6.60

Regular Season: 6.35 in 23 appearances — Playoffs: 7.75 in 4 appearances

MOTM = 4 High = 8 Low = 5

Cristian Roldan seems like he has been in Seattle forever, completing his 5th season here and again putting up high marks even when bounced around to multiple positions. This year he tied for the fifth best rating even though he played multiple positions game by game. Asked to fill in on the right wing as well as his customary defensive midfield position, Cristian showed strong attacking skills, ending with two goals and five assists for the season. He did a little bit of everything, filling in well as a wide option but often was most effective later in matches where he was able to showcase his superior conditioning to victimize tired defenses.

What I liked: Roldan was the best player for Seattle in the playoffs and was spectacular at the end of the year, just like he is at the end of games. Slotted into central defensive midfield, he excelled in two-way play, combining fluidly with João Paulo to dominate the center of the field. Cristian makes great decisions from the defense, setting up chances by diving into the right-sided channel and crossing beautifully to teammates. His work rate late in the game is unparalleled, seemingly getting stronger as matches go on: “No one is better in the last 10 minutes of a game than Roldan, and he absolutely dominated after minute 80 with five defensive actions, completing all three of his passes, and earning two fouls.” This isn’t just fitness; he has the work rate and desire to utilize that fitness to dominate those who aren’t on his level. This gives Seattle flexibility late in matches as Roldan can push forward offensively to help overload or use his energy to defend a lead.

What I didn’t like: Although he did an admirable job hustling on the wing, it didn’t convert to goals often enough. He ended with two on the year and good, not great, chance creation. More an accessory player, his inability to complete crosses from wide positions limited Seattle’s chance creation on the right side. He also wasn’t able to open up spaces that were utilized by the overlapping runs of the right back or inside out runs from the central players. There wasn’t enough balance from his side when playing wide to offset the gravitational pull of Nico drifting to combine with Jordan Morris. This often left Seattle without a goal-scoring option on the back post when the Sounders attacked up the left, forcing the ball back central instead of deep.

Moving forward: With the Goose likely flying north for the winter, Roldan should slot back into defensive midfield next to João Paulo and combine as one of the best pairs in the league. Their play immensely complements each other, and hopefully Cristian is only asked to play on the wing in late game tactical changes. As a defensive mid in the playoffs, he amassed a massive 7.75 average score and two MOTM awards.

#5 (TIE) Jordan Morris

Realio’s rating: 6.56 in 27 appearances

Community rating: 6.86

Regular Season: 6.52 in 23 appearances — Playoffs: 6.75 in 4 appearances

MOTM = 4 High = 10 Low = 5

It’s kismet that Roldan’s best friend Morris would exactly equal his cumulative score this season, and Morris gets the #5 spot based on the seventh tiebreaker. 2020 was the culmination of a lot of promise for Jordan, who blossomed into an MLS best-11 member, creating dangerous chances nearly every match. He led Seattle with seven assists, was second on the team with 10 goals, and was absolutely dominant up the left wing. Time and again, Seattle found him in space and he delivered by diving past the defense to score or assist from the width. His speed allowed the Sounders to transition almost instantly from defensive blocks to offensive counterattack to jogging back to watch the opponents take a kickoff. On top of all his chance creation, Jordan found a clean finishing touch that had been slightly lacking, making him positively lethal any time he was in a good spot to score.

What I liked: Remember when Jordan dribbled through an entire team? Realio remembers. When Morris was feeling it, he was a soccer cheat code: “Nearly every single time Morris touched the ball he not only created dangerous chances, he also produced tangible results. His stat line is absolutely absurd. On 40 touches he had: three shots (all on target), three key passes, 86 percent passing, 10 defensive actions, one goal, three assists. He was completely dominant and had two more goals saved by Vega with incredible plays. This was impeccable, perfect play from Morris in all facets of the game.” This perfect 10 rating was one of 12 matches where he rated above average and showed his incredible upside; when Morris was “on” he was the best player in the entire league.

What I didn’t like: For as dominant a player as Morris is, he faded out of a number of matches or didn’t show up completely. He needs to remember he is bigger, stronger, faster, and more skilled than almost every player in the league, and he can be more selfish taking on players and creating for himself. When he drifts out of the game mentally, he struggles to get into good spots and looks tired. It wasn’t often, but someone at this level shouldn’t be completely missing from a match, and he did this three to four times this season. He leaned heavily on the defensive dominance of Nouhou to free him up to play as a wide forward for most of the year, and that put pressure on others to fill the gaps behind him. I would have loved to see him show better in the last match of the year, which may be his last as a Sounder.

Moving forward: It’s highly likely that Morris will be gone after his loan, and this is an almost inconceivable hole to replace. His abilities changed the way that Seattle played, and there will be a huge adjustment to fill that void from a creation and transitional play standpoint. On a personal level, he will need to work on his defensive duties and to adjust to a system that isn’t designed to highlight his unique skillset.