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Seattle Sounders vs. 2021: End-of-season player ratings, #1

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Tinha que ser aquele homem.

#1 João Paulo

Realio’s rating: 7.16 in 32 appearances

Community rating: 7.26

Regular Season: 7.19 in 31 appearances — Playoff: 7.00 in 1 appearance

MOTM = 8 Reg Season High = 9 Low =6

It should come as no surprise that your number one rated player in 2021 was none other than João Paulo. JP was clearly the top player for Seattle, earning an incredible 8 MOTM awards, constantly dominating in all facets of the game and averaging 7+ for the entire season. He had a high floor, never rating below average on Realio’s Ratings, and he consistently threw out 8s as a top performer. He was the only player this year to earn a 9, for his all-around performance against Colorado where he was a one-man highlight reel. Sometimes, he earned his accolades from stellar defense, patrolling the defensive midfield and sheltering the back line. Other times, it was his distribution through the middle, constantly earning the most touches in the match and finding quality balls to teammates. Or it was his direct offensive impact via corner assists, banger volleys, and dribbling through the entire team in beast mode to score himself. This player’s ability to be what the team needed at any given time is unrivaled, and the 2021 Sounders leaned into finding him and riding his performances to a 60-point season.

What I liked: Nearly everything. João announced himself to the season by hitting a banger goal from the top of the box in the opening game. He followed this up with 30 plus appearances of exquisite play, and was constantly the best player on the field. He showed the ability to get into the corners both offensively and defensively, and his range of coverage through the middle and tenacity were incredible. His stats were off the charts, averaging 4.67 tackles+interceptions per match and nearly 22 defensive pressures as a dominating presence all over the field. He had by far the most touches on the team, attempting 600 more passes than any teammate in 2021 while constantly getting the ball and facilitating intelligent movement through opponent lines. JP led the team in assists, with 11 on the year. He did almost everything right all the time.

He won so many MOTM awards it was hard to pick a standout match, but I was particularly impressed with his performance against RSL on June 23rd, when he put in one of the best all around matches without a goal or assist that a Sounders player has produced. In this match he showcased it all — five tackles, 11 pressures, 19 line-breaking passes and an unprecedented 838 yards of progressive passing distance on 111 impactful touches. This was indicative of his influence on every match, and while he can (and did) drop a 9 on the opponents, it was his consistent dominance over every game that really stood out. He defends so well, staying positionally in tact and supporting teammates before tackling hard and directly winning possession. Once he has the ball, he is moving it forward, constantly looking to advance the team and not being satisfied with safe, short, square, or back passes. João Paulo has such a high tactical IQ that he fits flawlessly into any lineup, formation, or role.

What I didn’t like: Almost nothing. Seattle was overly reliant on João Paulo at times and he did tire some, late in the season. Tasked with defending across the middle, distributing through central areas, getting to the corners to support gaps, bringing the ball forward, scoring bangers, and assisting on many set piece goals, it was an incredible ask. JP faded a little at the end of the year, missing two of the final three matches with injury concerns. Sometimes the expectation of doing it all was too much for João, who showed visible frustration and picked up a number of questionable cards.

Moving forward: JP was MVP for the Sounders this season and nearly won MVP of the entire league. His ability to impact all facets of the game cannot be overstated. In 2022, with an influx of talent around him and an incredibly deep squad, there is some question about his role changing. The 19 line-breaking passes in the match mentioned above show exactly how impactful he can be as a deep-lying playmaker — something he’ll likely continue to be with the addition of Albert Rusnák and Nico Lodeiro to the lineup. There’s no reason to suggest he’ll be less impactful with more talent in front of him, but his role may evolve to be more enforcer and distributor than direct creator, and that’s fine. His set piece assists may drop in 2022, but run of play chance creation will likely rise, and he must be looking forward to working with Jordan Morris’ speed and the potential holes the offensive weapons assembled should create in opposing defenses. With the equally impressive fitness of Cristian Roldan next to him, each of these players should amplify the other, and envisioning the work rate of these two is incredibly exciting. In 2021 we witnessed João Paulo shine; in 2022 we could see him glow.