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Seattle Sounders vs. 2021: End-of-season player ratings, #11-#7

Lefties, y’all.

#11 Spencer Richey

Realio’s rating: 6.00 in 2 appearances

Community rating: 6.28

MOTM = 0 High = 6 Low = 6

A player who only saw the field twice for Seattle, Richey didn’t show the high upside of others in this set of players but did what he needed to do to fulfill his goalkeeping duties. His stat sheet was sparkling: two matches played, two starts, two wins, zero goals. It’s hard to find much wrong with a guy who kept a clean sheet both times he stepped on the field.

What I liked: Richey was on the field for the youthful Austin match as well as a game against Dallas a month later. Both times he earned a clean sheet, stopping all five shots he faced. A highlight was stopping a 1-v-1 versus highly touted and newly transferred Ricardo Pepi. Again, Spencer could only make the saves he was given the opportunity to make, and he made them all.

What I didn’t like: Unlike both other non-Frei Seattle goalkeepers this season, the upside wasn’t evident with Richey. He wasn’t asked to make challenging saves, and that limited his opportunity to sell himself as a full-time starting caliber player. He didn’t show much with his feet or distribution choices, failing to showcase any intriguing positives that might have tempted the Sounders for a longer tenure. In fact, his passing was awful, earning him a pathetic 37 percent completion rate, and he consistently put his team in worse positions than they presented to him.

Moving forward: Very little of Richey’s play indicated that he was a long-term solution. Maybe the Chicago Fire read the “what I liked” section of this article and stopped there. Unperturbed by the minutia, they saw the overall picture of an unscored on goalie and signed him in the offseason. We won’t know how this hometown player could have done under more strenuous goalkeeping circumstances for Seattle, but we’ll have to watch his progress should he start in Chicago. Most fans are probably okay with that, preferring to remember him as an undefeated local friend.

#10 Samuel Adeniran

Realio’s rating: 6.00 in 2 appearances

Community rating: 5.78

MOTM = 0 High = 7 Low = 5

Adeniran joined the Sounders organization this year and rocketed up the prospect rankings. In addition to a stellar Tacoma Defiance season where he scored 13 goals, Sam appeared in two league matches for the first-team Sounders, starting once. Both times he looked ready to play alongside and versus MLS-level talent, surprising us with an elegant mixture of size, power, and speed. His performance in a few short cameos and massive potential to realize his physical gifts earned him a first team promotion in the offseason.

What I liked: Starting his first Sounders match against Austin, Adeniran was the total package. He only played a half, but amassed four shots, a key pass, 13 duels, and a tackle. He showed hold-up play and a willingness to mix it up with centerbacks, but also speed and ability to push the ball into wide channels and dribble with direct intent. His effort and intensity were incredible. From this match: “Big. Strong. Fast. Direct. Goal dangerous. Holdup play. Connecting. Heading. Shooting. Sam showed potential to be great.” There is so much raw athletic ability here waiting to be shaped, and he’s already developing new skills within his time in the Sounders organization. Able to use his speed to get to a powerful left foot, Adeniran has incredible upside while filling a need for the first team.

What I didn’t like: With Will Bruin struggling or hurt for much of 2021, there were some forward minutes to grab. Adeniran, while he wasn’t remotely poor in his appearances, didn’t force his way into the equation with goals and assists that demanded an immediate contract, and instead he returned to Tacoma to finish out the year. He isn’t yet a polished player, and often relied on his physical size and strength to get opportunities down south that may not translate on MLS fields. His touch and overall finishing relies on volume and opportunity.

Moving forward: The tools are there but this signing is based on high upside and potential rather than a finished product right now. The question Sam must answer is, can his game translate to the better league against bigger, stronger, faster players? When he is no longer able to just body off opponents or run by them, can his mental and tactical acumen rise to the occasion? How does a wide forward fit into the Sounders formation? If Adeniran can add some refinement to his holdup play, there is a definite need for a big strong second forward to complement Raúl Ruidíaz. He also has potential to be a lone forward running diagonals should the need arise, and showed ferocious intensity when asked to run at defenses alone.

#9 Stefan Cleveland

Realio’s rating: 6.13 in 15 appearances

Community rating: 6.33

MOTM = 1 High = 8 Low = 4

One player who made the most of his opportunities to start games was Cleveland, who came from relative obscurity to be thrust into the lineup, due to an injury to starter Stefan Frei. This backup was instrumental in an early-season surge for the Sounders, and he did an excellent job keeping the seat warm for Frei to return. Cleveland ended up with 15 starts, amassing a 6-5-4 record in goal during MLS as well as a win in Leagues Cup.

What I liked: Cleveland was unknown in Seattle prior to being forced into the starting role, but he immediately had an impact. Showing excellent aggression and refined distribution ability thanks to some of the best goalkeeper feet the Sounders have had, Stefan was undefeated in his first eight starts, and earned three clean sheets. This was part of a cumulative 1.13 GAA effort for the year, and Stefan was a key cog as Seattle built on their early momentum, even with their star goalkeeper injured. He earned an exceptional 8 and MOTM in a 6-2 win against Portland away, almost single-handedly keeping his team in the game with heroic diving saves and acrobatic interventions. Cleveland’s ability to hold against immense pressure and only concede twice, never allowing Portland to lead in this match, was essential to earning enough time for the offense to come through and demolish the Timbers. It was this timely goalkeeping, more so even than his shutouts, that impressed.

What I didn’t like: With more playing time came more opportunities for errors, and Stefan had a few big blunders. Always an aggressive goalkeeper, his tendency to charge out of the box and make questionable save attempts was exposed on numerous occasions. His last appearance was also his worst, as he earned a 4 rating in a disappointing home loss to those same Portland Timbers a few weeks later. In that recap I wrote, “Portland had two shots on goal, and both scored. Although not fully to blame for the first goal, a dreadful clearance attempt in the 54th nearly opened the scoring for the Timbers, and his 95th minute header attempt was an undisciplined flailing attempt to support the team and predictably failed.” Had Cleveland just stayed on his line and played smart, passive defense first, it’s likely the unimaginative Timbers would have been shut out. Instead, Stefan showed dreadful timing on leaving his box and in this match that cost the team dearly. This was part of a trend where Cleveland was his own worst enemy at times.

Moving forward: The athletic ability is clearly there for Stefan, who was excellent in shot stopping and displayed a cultured confidence with his feet that impressed. His passing and distribution from the back were underrated weapons for Seattle, who haven’t had a goalie as clean with their feet as him. Unfortunately, some of the mental side of the game has yet to coalesce for Cleveland, and he remains far behind Frei in game management. If his positioning and decision making can catch up to his clear talent, he has a long future as an MLS goalkeeper. In Dutra we trust.

#8 Jimmy Medranda

Realio’s rating: 6.28 in 25 appearances

Community rating: 6.48

MOTM =1 High = 8 Low = 5

Jimmy Medranda earned high expectations after being one of the better Sounders in the 2020 MLS Cup Final, but he was still a relative unknown heading into this past season. Injuries have robbed Jimmy from any career consistency, but when he played for Seattle, he looked great. In 2021, he was a revelation at the left wingback position, constantly showing excellent creation, direct play, and defensive work rate, making him the clear starter when healthy.

What I liked: Medranda was good, and his stats could have been even better. His goals, shots, assists, and creation metrics were incredible. He ended with four goals and three assists, and combined this with a stellar 1.6 tackles per match, offering much-needed defensive bite from the width. For Seattle, that translated into a lock-down left side defensively, and a creative force who could feed passes in link up play centrally, cross from the width, and dribble into space to find spectacular goalscoring opportunities. His best grade came against Colorado on October 3rd as Jimmy created opportunities in transition via his defense, scored a goal (that was sadly removed) thanks to some nifty dribbling, and queued up 93 percent passing as he showed off his complete game.

What I didn’t like: “Stay healthy” has to be the mantra for Medranda. Not featuring in the playoffs was a blow to Seattle. Although he started 15 games, Jimmy had a number of concerning injuries, and so his numbers were lower than they could have been. His play kept the observer wanting more, wondering whether he could take advantage of opportunities. He was a little underwhelming as a bench player; when he subbed in, he often faded into obscurity instead of being a sparkplug. When starting, he tired and was not asked to go 90.

Moving forward: Medranda scored one of the best goals I have ever seen against Portland. He supplemented the spectacular moments with steady defense and a multi-faceted offensive game that could highlight others as well as create opportunities of his own. When healthy, he is the obvious choice at some sort of left or left-central position, but may be in conflict within other formation choices. Wherever the team lands tactically, look for Medranda to be a quality skill player with high upside and high floor who can mesh well on the left and create some spectacular moments.

#7 Nouhou

Realio’s rating: 6.37 in 19 appearances

Community rating: 6.64

MOTM = 1 High = 8 Low = 4

2021 was a tale of two halves of the season for Nouhou. Fresh out of the gate, he was absolutely dominant, the best defender in the league and a perfect fit at left centerback in the new formation. Then he got hurt, missed a bunch of time, and returned to a platoon at his position as he played through his rehab. At times it was hard to know exactly what he was doing, as his playstyle of unpredictable chaos is both maddening and breathtakingly beautiful.

What I liked: Nouhou played the first eight matches before being injured. His lowest score was a single average rating and he added three 8s on the way to being the top-rated Sounder in the first half of the year, sporting a sparking 7.25 cumulative average. He was absolutely sublime, leveraging his speed and strength to completely shut down the left side of the field for opponents. No one beat Nouhou; he not only dispossessed rivals but turned upfield to find attacking possessional choices. At his best in this stretch, he was a dynamic defender who dominated any opponent, and he also burst into the attack and found smart passes. He absolutely shut down an entire quarter of the field. Against Atlanta he had five interceptions, three tackles, and created two yellows by charging forward expediently on assertive attacking dribbles on his way to a MOTM award. Nouhou is a delight, combining overwhelming athleticism with daily improvement in personal tactical awareness and a dash of magical flair.

What I didn’t like: Nouhou got injured and everything changed. Since he was so dominant in the first group of matches, falling back to MLS median was an enormous drop. His 5.7 cumulative grade in 11 of the last 12 matches was from mostly average matches with a stinker against SKC that earned his worst grade of the year. In that match, Nouhou entered as a sub at a wide position and was ineffective, failing to understand the tactical demands of the position. His aimless charging into the attack had a detrimental effect on the defense, ultimately ending in a backside run being unmarked by both Nouhou and Shane O’Neill, and the Sporks celebrating at Lumen field. Also worrying was his injury status that flummoxed fans and coaches alike, as at one point he was forced to stay on the field while potentially injured. The uncertainty around his play was clearly frustrating to all involved.

Moving forward: Nouhou was fine in the second half of the year but after seeing what he was capable of prior, it was a massive letdown to see him be just “okay.” There is much upside from this player who can be one of the best talents in the league, but he comes with baggage to be managed by the coaching staff. He has yet to gain the dependability that other, higher-rated defensive teammates have, and that limits his potential. If he can find more consistency and stay healthy, this exciting player can stand out on a team full of stars.

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