#4 Raúl Ruidíaz
Realio’s rating: 6.64 in 22 appearances
Community rating: 6.93
Regular Season: 6.61 in 18 appearances — Playoffs: 6.75 in 4 appearances
MOTM = 2 High = 8 Low = 5
Seattle’s leading scorer Raúl Ruidíaz checks in at number 4 in the 2020 ratings; he had a strong season with 12 goals and four assists in 18 regular season appearances. His goals+assists per 90 minutes was nearly one, meaning he created a goal every time out. He added two goals and two assists in the playoffs, creating over half of the Sounders’ goals in the postseason. Raúl’s strength is in his cerebral movement and positioning, which complements his deadly finishing ability, and he should get even more credit for the work he does opening up logical spaces for teammates to work than he does. Tirelessly pulling lumbering center backs around, Ruidíaz is a striker who feasts in the shadows, running off the ball and finishing from nearly any angle. He’s a consistent goal scorer, not a feast or famine player who is prone to long cold spells.
What I liked: Ruidíaz is incredibly consistent, being goal dangerous and creating for himself or others almost every game. In their first soccer game after being badly beaten out of the MLSIB tournament, and playing the “champs,” Seattle made a statement through Ruidíaz as the Sounders unlocked the parked bus: “The Portland defense was tight, and they were perfectly willing to stack defenders and hope for a set piece or transition goal. So, you just wonder how this single little forward is going to have any hope of touching the ball. And then Ruidíaz shows you that he only needs the smallest of touches to put the ball on frame, and when he does that five times it’s going to result in goals. This was an example of how good Ruidíaz is at maximizing every run and movement to not only create those few inches of separation needed, but finish within them. He ended up putting three on frame and finished with two goals and an assist while completing 88 percent of his passes.” Raúl’s ability to ghost into good spots and finish is similar to peak Wondolowski, only Raúl would have finished against Belgium, AMIRITE?
What I didn’t like: It isn’t often that Raúl struggles, but when he does, he often compounds it by trying too hard, forcing shots into pressure and being tunnel-visioned on scoring. This can be at the expense of teammates’ chances, and while rare, his frustration has led to him lashing out against opponents as well. Raúl let his negative emotions get the better of him during a poor performance against Portland in their 94th meeting this year and was lucky not to get sent off mid-match. After missing on multiple chances that he normally puts away, Raul had a retaliatory kick out after a foul by a Timber player and was retroactively suspended for the next match. Seattle depends on him to fill up the score sheet, so losing him for any amount of time is a big loss. We want the striker to score, but when he forces the ball there can sometimes be better opportunities through a teammate being missed.
Moving forward: Raúl will be even more the offensive focal point as the second leading scorer is off to test the European soccer market. Seattle should be fine as long as they keep finding Ruidíaz in good positions, as he can finish from nearly anywhere he gets the ball. While excellent at hold up play, the strong central players behind him should ensure that Raúl is allowed to feast on service into the box in the upcoming year without being tasked with dropping too deep into the midfield to find touches.
#3 João Paulo
Realio’s rating: 6.70 in 23 appearances
Community rating: 6.88
Regular Season: 6.74 in 19 appearances — Playoffs: 6.50 in 4 appearances
MOTM = 3 High = 8 Low = 5
Speaking of midfield touches, new Sounder João Paulo was an instant upgrade in the middle, showing incredible two-way play and earning high marks almost every match. Other than being a bit tired late in the season, earning back-to-back 5s, JP didn’t have a game under MLS average all year during the regular season. His consistent play was hugely impactful, as Seattle improved their transition play utilizing João’s ability in tight spaces to push the ball more direct. A bulldog in the defensive third, JP brought dynamic playmaking ability through over-the-top passing and great vision to see diagonal runs and through balls. João’s ability to lead the team in defensive actions while also getting the second (or first) most touches on the field and distributing not just safely but also goal directly and aggressively was immense for this team.
What I liked: JP gave Seattle a direct attacking threat from a deep-lying central position, and this was extraordinarily effective for a team that was missing exactly that. His distribution and playmaking opened up the wings for Seattle, constantly releasing Morris up the left or switching to find overlapping runs on the right. Perhaps more importantly, having João on the field released Nico Lodeiro to be even more effective, allowing the #10 to float all over, extending the Sounders’ coverage of the field even more. His defensive work rate is somehow underrated, and JP had the 6th most tackles in the entire league. The defensive range he had allowed other Sounder players more space as well, with JP able to cover spaces for teammates. João plays a tireless two-way role for Seattle, breaking up opponent attacks and then leading transitions through the midfield, finding forward, dangerous passes and not settling for square or drop balls. When the opponents forgot about him, he even snuck into the offensive third to the tune of two goals and three assists.
What I didn’t like: He looked tired by the end of the year, and Seattle dropped points in two straight at the start of November against beatable teams in games when João struggled. When he is tired, JP still defends well but his offensive production lags. “João Paulo looked tired before subbing off in the 78th. He only had 66 touches, failing to imprint his usual impact on the match, and he was especially ineffective sheltering the back line. His defensive work rate remained high, and he was consistently in the middle of plays, just without as much influence as we are used to seeing.” He subbed out early in that match and was forced to the bench for the next one. Another point in either of those matches would have made a difference in Seattle’s playoff run.
Moving forward: Now that João Paulo is signed and no longer on loan, the central spine of Raúl, Nico, and JP looks like one of the best in the league. Likely pairing with Cristian Roldan in the defensive midfield, Seattle should be able to press and counter press more than in previous seasons, leveraging the mind-blowing work rates of that central trio. Seattle might even get more offense from JP, who looks poised to have a monstrous year.