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Seattle Sounders vs. 2021: End-of-season player ratings, #22-#17

We’re entering 2022 with some big questions regarding some big names.

#22 Reed Baker-Whiting

Realio’s rating: 5.50 in 4 appearances

Community rating: 5.70

MOTM = 0 High = 7 Low = 5

Young Reed Baker-Whiting is next on the ratings list, coming in at number 22. Finding his first playing time as a senior Sounder, RBW showcased a high floor and skills nearly ready for MLS play. He turned 16 years old last spring, but he showed a maturity and field calmness that belied his age, and he played in four matches. Earning a 7 grade at such a young age was impressive, but he was always near MLS average ratings-wise, showing clear ability that fit in with the first team. Physically, he has an incredible resumé, boasting size, speed, strength, and touch.

What I liked: The upside was clearly on display against Austin. Surrounded by other young players he stood out as just better. One thing I liked: Everything. Seriously. Reed tackled well. His positioning and movement were silky smooth. He pushed the ball forward consistently (two key passes). His touch is that magical thing (Atencio has this) where somehow the ball just drops after bouncing around his big frame to his feet.” As noted earlier, good matches against Austin don’t necessarily indicate success, but RBW’s touch is MLS-ready. Time and again, he would calmly handle the ball in traffic and under duress, and this bodes well for his future. That extra second gained by controlling possession quickly will allow him to develop better decision-making moving forward due to the space it creates. Reed has great touch, strong movement, and is amazingly composed on the field for being only 16.

What I didn’t like: It didn’t click completely for RBW this season, and he fell out of favor as teammates returned to the lineup. A problem for Baker-Whiting was his lack of consistency: he would often get into good places but fail to make the right decision or execute the play correctly. An example was in a start versus San Jose: “RBW made a great run in the 34th minute, received a perfect pass from Raúl and was in excellent position to slot home his first professional goal but instead panicked and kicked it right at the goalie.” This was a recurring theme from his season — doing 70-80 percent right but not being able to completely finish off plays. The best soccer players are at their best in the big moments, and Baker-Whiting didn’t show that killer instinct needed for MLS play.

Moving forward: Reed has a high ceiling for development but needs some polish to reach those heights. Just getting into a good position isn’t enough; he needs to finish good opportunities by making quicker decisions. Having MLS-ready touch and instincts is a great start. RBW also brings a different style of play than other similarly-aged players vying for midfield time: he’s a much more direct player and his ability to press high and make vertical runs is unique and needed. His creativity is hard to learn, and it’s the kind of skillset that needs refinement more than expansion. His ceiling will be defined by how well he develops the mental side of the game.

#21 Abdoulaye Cissoko

Realio’s rating: 5.60 in 15 appearances

Community rating: 5.89

Regular Season: 5.64 in 14 appearances — Playoff: 5.00 in 1 appearance

MOTM = 0 High = 7 Low = 4

Out of nowhere, Cissoko burst onto the scene for Seattle. He started the season making a penalty kick to rescue a tie for Tacoma, and he ended it by subbing into a playoff game to strike a PK true for the first team. In between, he showed much potential across the backline. Abdoulaye was able to slot into the left side and had success passing forward and defending to the width from the central defense.

What I liked: Young, big, strong, and composed, Abdoulaye was pressed into action for a thin Sounders squad and looked excellent. At times he looked like the de-facto fourth centerback based on limited errors and strong defensive play. Of especially exciting note was his passing, which included many creative and advanced passes up field and 87 percent overall completion rate on the season. When coach Schmetzer needed a dependable penalty taker in the biggest game of the year, he subbed on Cissoko, an incredible move that paid off with the defender striking true.

What I didn’t like: After looking great in his first few appearances, Cissoko struggled and showed some poor decision-making in matches late in the year. Against Houston in mid October: “AB was constantly at odds with his teammates on the back line. Xavier Arreaga was always motioning him into place, and after a bad pass in the 33rd minute, Cissoko casually (and infuriatingly) watched the opposing team run by his defense instead of helping.” While not indicative of his entire body of work, Abdoulaye had a rough end of the season and had a hard time dealing with the athleticism of MLS opponents. His positioning was clearly a problem and deteriorated as he tired throughout the season. It was a bit worrying that his play declined as he got more time.

Moving forward: With Shane O’Neill’s exit, there’s an opportunity for Cissoko to step into that fourth centerback role in 2022. His combination of size and mobility fit well into the Sounders scheme, and he only recently turned 22 years old. There is immense potential for Abdoulaye to continue to develop, and with fixture congestion expected in the upcoming season, look for him to be an eager contributor.

#20 Léo Chú

Realio’s rating: 5.63 in 8 appearances

Community rating: 6.11

MOTM = 1 High = 6 Low = 5

Midway through the season, Seattle looked to Brazil to bolster their depth. They signed Léo Chú as the team’s first U-22 initiative signing, and he immediately added some direct speed and left-sided attacking play that had been missing. He showed well in the Leagues Cup, and as a late MLS sub he was goal-direct and combined well up the wing. Able to create off the dribble, Léo’s silky control in traffic allowed him to consistently push the ball forward into the attacking third. His style of play didn’t mesh completely with teammates, and there were many growing pains as he adjusted to the proclivities of the players and the league.

What I liked: Chú has this awesome ability to enter a match and completely mold it around his play. Nearly every time he subbed in he was creative, and Seattle had great success utilizing his skillset late in matches. He earned MOTM for this very thing late in the season against Colorado. “His ability to find the tactical holes in the defense that were apparent much of the match was combined with a physical skillset that let him turn the match on its head. He only had 10 touches but was magical each time he found the ball.” Léo Chú clearly has a grasp on finding how to attack defenses, and his direct play was refreshing for a Sounders team that often lost concentration and effectiveness when confronted with compact defenders. He is excellent in slotting uniquely angled passes from the left and is goal dangerous as well, finding a goal and an assist in only 153 MLS minutes. He also looked excellent in the Leagues Cup, again showing an attacking verve that was equal to the competition.

What I didn’t like: I have no idea how Léo Chú fits into the Seattle lineup and I am not sure the coaches do either. Although he’s clearly talented, it was disappointing to see him sit on the bench healthy and only get spot time late in matches. After being a sparkplug, offensively, running at opponents in nearly every opportunity, somehow Chú sat idly on the bench as RSL parked the bus and never saw the field. Late in the match with the opponents barely attempting to attack was the time to get your best attacking players on the field, and Chú sat. I’m not sure what that says about their confidence in the player. Either he is tactically inflexible, or the team is.

Moving forward: The offseason begs a number of questions about formation, and no one will be more impacted by lineups than Chú. If he indeed needs a specific tactical setup that Seattle won’t be playing, or he needs to play more defensively or whatever it is, these next few weeks are big for a quality player to find where he fits in this team’s long-term plans. Although only 21 years old, there is potential from this player; Seattle and its fans will be impatient for him to build upon the flashes of brilliance he displayed in 2021.

#19 Will Bruin

Realio’s rating: 5.63 in 24 appearances

Community rating: 6.15

MOTM = 1 High = 8 Low = 4

Striker Will Bruin had one of the most disappointing seasons in 2021. Starting the year off as the incumbent starter next to Raúl Ruidíaz, he earned eight starts in the first 11 matches. The Sounders had great success in these games, going undefeated, and although Bruin himself didn’t score or assist, he was active and part of positive play. As the season wore on, injury and ineffectiveness robbed Will of any notable stats (3g3a) and he increasingly saw his playing time cut into by other, more effective teammates.

What I liked: A striker can get away with not scoring as long as they contribute in other ways, and he did a little of everything against Vancouver on October 9th. Four shots, four key passes and a goal finally earned Bruin a payoff from much hustle without results in many previous matches. Will did well to impose himself in the middle of nearly everything good that happened. He was key via surgically precise runs, hold up play, and touches to others that set himself and teammates up for goals. This was peak Will Bruin and what this veteran can offer when he is contributing.

What I didn’t like: Other than that Vancouver match and a late goal against Columbus, Bruin was quite ineffective for most of the season. Whether it was an issue of fitness or rehab from his surgery is unknown, but Will couldn’t finish whatsoever. He flubbed multiple big chances, missed key passes and was broadly ineffective for Seattle. Holdup play is integral to any team, but Bruin consistently lost possession, and his poor passing numbers (64 percent completion on the season) were dreadful. Based on his own previous standards, 2021 was a dismal season for Will who got plenty of chances to contribute and didn’t. He was passed on the depth chart by others, and it may be time to question whether he can continue to contribute. Will is a popular player, but he should be expected to produce more than this.

Moving forward: Bruin has been a quality member of the Sounders for five years now and 2022 will be a huge year for him. So many questions need to be answered: Is he the player he was pre-injury who scored a very nice 20 goals in 69 appearances? Or is he the guy who has scored four goals in the last two seasons (39 apps) and is making a hefty salary? Does Seattle change formation to get other skillful players on the field at the expense of the second striker role that Bruin fills? Is this the end of his effectiveness? That’s a lot of questions for this veteran who is likely excited to have CCL coming up quickly, so he can positively answer some of them.

#18 Nicolás Lodeiro

Realio’s rating: 5.70 in 10 appearances

Community rating: 6.29

Regular Season: 5.78 in 9 appearances — Playoff: 5.00 in 1 appearance

MOTM = 0 High = 7 Low = 5

Another hugely disappointing season for the 18th highest rated player, Nicolás Lodeiro. Nico, who has been the #1 player on these rankings every season as a Sounder except for 2018 (when he plummeted to #2) was unable to effectively return from what became a season-long injury. Only managing to appear 10 times for the Sounders, Lodeiro failed to fit in and show the dynamic play we have come to expect from him.

What I liked: Lodeiro had an early appearance in matchday 3, then was put on ice until the 4th of August. His return was expected to bolster the team in its Supporters Shield run, and in his second match back he looked outstanding. On a magical evening in Portland, the Sounders added Nico at halftime on the way to throwing a half dozen on the Timbers. All the Lodeiro magic was in evidence: two shots, a key pass, a set piece that created a goal, and plenty of string-pulling in the middle, setting up chance after chance as Seattle poured it on in almost embarrassing fashion. Seattle looked to have signed an MVP midseason who also scored an absolutely ridiculous goal in Leagues Cup to announce his return.

What I didn’t like: The storybook ending — Sounders again ride Nico’s arrival to another title — was quickly quashed, as it became apparent that Lodeiro wasn’t full speed. I can’t remember giving Nico a 5 grade ever, and yet he earned two in his midseason six-match return, another at the end of the season, and a final one in the playoff match: an utterly terrible season for a perennial top player in MLS. When he did play, Lodeiro struggled to find his place. At times his style was in direct contrast with what the other Sounders were attempting, and he showed this in the next Portland match after the Seattle romp: “It pains me to write this, but Nico was not that great. Still a talented player, he had a few rusty touches, and his control remains in pre-season form. Perhaps more alarming was his inability to fit the tactical system that Seattle has been playing this season. Although he had 84 touches, he was unable to display any consistent dynamic play, working hard but finding little soccer joy.” Unfortunately, that was the rule, not the exception for Lodeiro in limited minutes in 2021.

Moving forward: The biggest question for 2022 is whether their best player will be available, and in what capacity if so. The answer to this question will inform the entire organization on the direction they go, and will impact every player and coach. If Nico is back and ready to go, the preseason is cosmetic, finding the proper formation and tactics to meld him properly back into cohesiveness with the team, adding a few new parts and adjusting the chemistry. Hand him the reins and let him create for others as he has done so well in the past. If, sadly, the Lodeiro we know and love is gone (or if it’s uncertain like much of 2021), the team can still compete at a high level. Perhaps the silver lining of not having a dominant Lodeiro was the growth and emergence of others, as we learned to not be as dependent on Nico for success. But the best-case scenario is an already great team re-acclimating a genuine superstar back into the lineup and winning all the trophies.

#17 Shane O’Neill

Realio’s rating: 5.71 in 28 appearances

Community rating: 6.03

Regular Season: 5.67 in 27 appearances — Playoff: 7.00 in 1 appearance

MOTM = 0 High = 8 Low = 5

Shane came into 2021 looking like a solid backup, and was exactly that. A massive 28 appearances including a playoff start highlighted a quietly effective season that featured a lot of O’Neill in defense for Seattle. Able to play all across the centerback line, Shane was a consistent player who the coaches were able to count on to eat big minutes and play conservatively yet predictably. He finished with a stellar 92% completion rate for the year, obtained from a very cautious style that utilized the other centerbacks and goalkeeper extensively.

What I liked: Shane parlayed a few early opportunities into an impressive 28 appearances on the year, culminating in an excellent performance in the lone Seattle playoff match. He was dependable and never scored below a 5, consistently showing up and doing a pretty good job for a team that needed his consistency in defense. His best performance came against Vancouver in a 4-1 rout where he earned an 8 off the back of an excellent header goal to open the scoring and solid play in the center role, showing excellent two-way impact. He provided a similar performance in the RSL playoff match by showing sporadic attacking runs from the left, getting into good spots, and leading an anemic offense with some good aggression.

What I didn’t like: O’Neill was the epitome of a high floor low ceiling player for Seattle. Shane only scored above average twice in the regular season, constantly being at or just below average. His penchant for eschewing any forward passing and instead finding his goalie stunted the Seattle attack many times, as Shane was conservative to a fault. His very tentative choices in the back constantly forced teammates to adjust, making Frei, JP, Arreaga, and others drop deep and deal with his at times plodding passes. O’Neill had very low interception and other key defensive numbers due to overcompensating for a lack of speed by dropping exceptionally deep, eliminating trap potential, and ravaging team shape. Sporadically he would be over aggressive, which culminated in some terrible defensive decisions and fouls given, and his positioning was an adventure.

Moving forward: Shane was very solid but not exceptional, with a number of major gaffes that stood out as much as his quality play (such as committing the foul in the box to put León ahead in the Leagues Cup Final). He should be remembered in Seattle as a very solid backup who was consistent and intense for a team that needed both. He will likely be remembered specifically for one of his best matches in the playoffs, and will take that desire and play to Toronto next season. If he can repeat that every match and receive the support specifically to enable him, O’Neill will be a solid MLS defender for the FC’s. If teams can expose his lack of speed and positioning, he remains a one dimensional player who prefers to play backwards, and will be just another player who struggles on that squad.

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