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Seattle Sounders vs. 2021: End-of-season player ratings, #16-#12

Hometown heroes in several senses.

#16 Joshua Atencio

Realio’s rating: 5.80 in 25 appearances

Community rating: 6.18

Regular Season: 5.83 in 24 appearances — Playoff: 5.00 in 1 appearance

MOTM = 0 High = 7 Low = 4

At number 16, Josh Atencio got a massive amount of playing time for Seattle and translated that into success and growth. After playing only 14 minutes as an MLS pro prior to 2021, Atencio earned 1500 more minutes than that last season, coming into his own as a dependable pick with great upside. Most often paired in the defensive midfield, Josh impressed early with his incredible amount of ground covered, sheltering the back line, and using positional defense to combine well with more veteran players like João Paulo and Kelyn Rowe. His 84 percent passing was especially good in tight areas, earning near 90 percent in short- and medium-length passes. Only 19, Atencio has already staked his claim to big Sounders minutes.

What I liked: Josh made an immediate impact, earning 7 ratings in the first two matches of the year. Paired alongside JP in the opening match: “Atencio came into this game as fairly unknown — a 19-year-old kid who’s played fewer minutes as a pro than he has years on this planet. He left the game as a proven asset and a quality piece that can slot in as a defensive midfielder and distribute cleanly while defending well. Josh had the most touches on the team and completed 80 percent of his pass attempts. He also led the team with six tackles, showing natural defensive positioning.” He followed that up with another stellar match days later and emphatically announced his arrival on the scene. No longer a prospect, Atencio was a bona fide starter who meshed well with teammates, always showed composure, and played to his strengths well.

What I didn’t like: An injury early in the year derailed some of Josh’s momentum, and his ratings predictably dropped as the Sounders’ form also slipped. Teams learned that Josh’s defense was position-based and not as physical as other midfielders and took advantage to pull him out of position. None did this more visibly than SKC in the Suplex Match, as the Sporks drew Atencio up field and traversed the open hole he left in the middle en route to a game-winning goal. This form continued in the very next match when Josh was paired with Rowe centrally and again, he left giant holes due to poor spacing and tentative defense.

Moving forward: Atencio is a very exciting prospect, but it was telling that in a must-win match, the Sounders replaced him with Cristian Roldan. There will be plenty of minutes to go around in 2022’s congested schedule, but Josh has many questions to answer before earning his share. He needs to show that he can be a more physical defensive presence and connect well with teammates tactically as a two-way asset. He could also be groomed as a center back, after showing excellent instincts in some spot appearances in the back. His versatility and endurance are a bit of a double-edged sword that can earn him time all over the field, but he will need to develop more high-end skills and unique attributes to put him into everyday starting consideration.

#15 Nicolas Benezet

Realio’s rating: 5.86 in 14 appearances

Community rating: 6.18

Regular Season: 5.85 in 13 appearances — Playoff: 6.00 in 1 appearance

MOTM = 0 High = 8 Low = 5

Nico Benezet was picked up midseason from Colorado in an unheralded move that was very successful. Clearly a talented attacker, Benezet was consistently good with several exceptional outings. Able to fit immediately into any tactical situation the coaches dropped him into, Nicolas played multiple attacking positions and offered short passing and link up offensive play with some nifty finishing when given the opportunity.

What I liked: Seattle needed someone to drive the offense forward and Benezet fit that role excellently. He constantly looked forward, rarely dropping the ball and instead pushing the offense into the attack. He earned seven starts, tallied three goals and an assist (adding another goal in the Leagues Cup final) and was as advertised. For a team that had underperforming/hurt attacking pieces, Nicolas was a savvy addition on a great price that allowed Seattle to inject some offense when the team desperately needed it. His consistent movement and desire to link up with teammates made him a willing runner and target to find in the attacking third.

What I didn’t like: Nicolas Benezet is a player who works hard and gets into solid spots for your team, but it was hard to watch him fumble away good chances. At times, he wasn’t much more than an expensive stopgap. He had a tendency to be too direct for a team that was intent on building up play, and he often forced the ball forward into a packed defense by himself. When route one failed, he was out of ideas and lost possession instead of finding a solution.

Moving forward: Benezet was a boutique player, someone whose high salary for single dimensional play made him desirable when Seattle acquired him (ostensibly not paying much of his salary). It was great to have a singular attacking weapon on a discount for Seattle’s purposes, but his high salary made him a poor choice to remain on the team in 2022. His fun banter and clear appreciation for the community will be missed as he looks for a team that is a better fit, but it’s unlikely that the Sounders will sign this free agent.

#14 Kelyn Rowe

Realio’s rating: 5.91 in 35 appearances

Community rating: 5.92

Regular Season: 5.91 in 34 appearances — Playoff: 6.00 in 1 appearance

MOTM = 1 High = 8 Low = 4

Brought in to play for his hometown team as a free agent, Rowe was an incredibly valuable addition in 2021. He was the only Sounder to play in every match of the season, entering 35 MLS matches and doubling his appearances from the previous year. Not just used to eat minutes, Kelyn was a solid midfield piece who was versatile enough to play at wingback and attacking roles as needed. He was invaluable as a player who meshed well with teammates and brought veteran accountability and underrated defensive intensity.

What I liked: I don’t think anyone guessed Rowe would play as much as he did, and he earned the time because he performed well. His ability to combine centrally and make runs forward was a nice fit for Seattle, and he brought a lot of bite to the middle. Almost always solid, Rowe got his lone goal of the season in July against Houston, on the way to earning man of the match. In that game he started at attacking midfield and brought unique diagonal runs to the width and combined with forwards and midfielders to spur the attack. He had four shots, a goal, and led the team in tackles in the match, showing an intensity that created offense from his defensive work rate in an advanced role. I loved the emotion and ferocity that he played with, as he clearly appreciated the opportunity to represent Seattle.

What I didn’t like: Rowe played a lot, and he wore down like the rest of the team. His intensity wasn’t always controlled, and he had a poor habit of overextending or forcing plays that led to very visible mistakes. Almost “playing too hard,” sometimes Rowe would overplay and put teammates in bad positions. Contrarily, when he didn’t hustle or have direct involvement, it was immediately evident by his lack of connection with teammates and bearing on the match. Having a player see-saw between being too aggressive and not aggressive enough was a challenge, and he ended up about average on the year.

Moving forward: Rowe brought great value to the Sounders on a low price point, and if he wants to run it back the team is likely overjoyed. The next season will be a busy one, and if Kelyn can stay healthy and be available, having him on the team will be an asset in multiple roles. His lack of high-end ceiling is mitigated by the incredible talent around him, and it’s likely that if he doesn’t have to play in every match, he’ll have higher “highs” when he does play.

#13 Fredy Montero

Realio’s rating: 5.93 in 30 appearances

Community rating: 6.14

Regular Season: 5.97 in 29 appearances — Playoff: 5.00 in 1 appearance

MOTM = 3 High = 8 Low = 5

Another “local” player who returned to Washington on a discount and had an incredible impact was Montero. Scoring the second most goals on the team (seven), Fredy was a massive piece of the attacking puzzle for Seattle. He chipped in with six assists (also second on the team), showing an ability to create for others and adjust his role to the needs of the players around him.

What I liked: Fredy was at his very best in a familiar role as Timber’s killer, scoring two in the first half to almost single-handedly keep the Sounders’ foot on Portland’s throat. Seattle wasn’t particularly impressive in the first half, but twice he found a sliver of space and scored, giving the good guys a 2-0 lead on the way to a 6-2 final. Fredy brought direct shooting and goals, but an always underrated part of his skillset is his passing, which was excellent. Often the best offensive incursions came via entry to Montero, who displayed great holdup and the ability to bring others into the attack via a dizzying array of touches, passes, and flicks. His quality play and results forced his way into the starting lineup, and Montero was integral to Seattle’s offensive success.

What I didn’t like: Although he was good offensively, there were moments where it was evident that Fredy hadn’t played with quality teammates in some time. I love Montero, but he was sometimes too selfish, taking speculative shots and having too much confidence in his ability to score the worldie of a goal, instead of the prudent pass to a teammate in a better position. A few times Raúl Ruidíaz, Cristian Roldan, or others made great runs only to get a perfect view of Montero forcing a shot into the stands from 25.

Moving forward: Montero clearly still has enough juice to keep playing, and his skills and style translate well even through aging. He added many tangible stats to the team as well as plenty of intangible movement and linkup play to support Seattle’s offensive production. The Sounders are likely motivated to keep Fredy around for the right price, and his value as a versatile offensive player is higher as a supplementary piece than an everyday starter.

#12 Alex Roldan

Realio’s rating: 5.93 in 30 appearances

Community rating: 6.26

Regular Season: 5.97 in 29 appearances — Playoff: 5.00 in 1 appearance

MOTM = 3 High = 8 Low = 5

Alex Roldan took a step forward in 2020 and a flying leap in 2021. Once an afterthought who walked onto the team in preseason, the younger Roldan blossomed into an MLS All-Star and full international. The new formation, in particular, was a good fit for Alex’s skills, as he combined nearly flawlessly next to Yeimar to be a two-way force.

What I liked: The combination of top-notch anticipation from the right side of defense and clear chemistry gave Alex incredible early season interception numbers. He directly translated these possession changes into scoring chances for Seattle, flying up the side to send cultured early crosses into the box. Nearly every match in the beginning of the season had a Roldan highlight as he combined with his brother to set up consistent attacking chances. He was especially effective in back-to-back matches in May, playing a stellar game against San Jose (with a goalkeeping cameo) before rightfully earning MOTM against LAFC, highlighted by five tackles, six interceptions, a game-high 84 touches, and an assist. When Alex is cooking it starts with great defense and transitions quickly into offensive attacks. His ability to send in a diagonal cross to the far post is excellent.

What I didn’t like: Roldan is still susceptible to back post defensive gaffes, and he leaned more and more on Yeimar to clean up his mistakes as he clearly tired from overwork. After a bright start, Alex didn’t earn an above-average rating for the entire second half of the season, as Seattle’s attack reverted to a strategy that didn’t feature him. Instead of forcing his way into the discussion by making bombing runs forward and attacking the goal directly, Alex became an okay outside defender who deferred to teammates to work the ball forward. That seemed like a missed opportunity for him to show those refined skills he displayed earlier in the year and add another weapon to a team that lacked creativity as the year wore on. Alex seemed to be a much more assertive player internationally; for the Sounders he deferred to his brother to make runs that he was just as capable of making.

Moving forward: Alex was a deserved All-Star this year, but did show some wear and tear and faded from relevance as the year went on. He may once again feel the heat in the offseason from other players who can play a wide defensive role. He remains the incumbent at wingback for Seattle but will need to show consistency and the dynamism he displayed early in 2021 if he wants to lock up the full-time starting job in 2022. First, he’ll need to sign his contract. Then, he may need to show an ability to once again play as a fullback rather than wingback if the Sounders make a formational change.

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