Wild as it may seem, the Seattle Sounders’ season only started about five weeks ago. But they’ve played eight games in that time — four of them against mid-season form international opponents — which I think gives us enough data to start making some big-picture assessments.
While some of this has the potential to change, these are some of the main things I feel very confident in saying we’ve learned:
Obed Vargas is going to be very good
I may as well start with the low-hanging fruit, and this goes down as pretty obvious at this point. But as recently as a few weeks ago, I think this was far more of an open question. While it’s true that people within the Sounders organization have been high on Vargas’ potential, the reality is that it was still based on a good deal of faith. Vargas had looked like he belonged while playing against grown men in the USL Championship, but he wasn’t exactly filling up the stat sheet. Whether or not it was the plan all along, it’s hard to argue against the idea that Vargas has been among the Sounders’ most important players. Due to injury or tactical decisions, only five outfield players have logged more than his 562 minutes. What’s most exciting about Vargas is how he seems to improve various aspects of his game each week. Against Austin FC, while not necessarily his best overall performance, he showed an increased understanding of how to draw fouls (a game-high five) as a means to help control the game-flow and even had two key passes. His best moment came late in the game when he was chasing a ball near the endline. Rather than letting it go out of bounds, he managed to control it and then picked out Fredy Montero for a quality look that nearly delivered the Sounders three points.
Gotta think schmetzer loves this from Vargas pic.twitter.com/dE9NBAuQMC— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) March 20, 2022
Jackson Ragen is, too
There was considerably less buzz around the signing of Jackson Ragen, who like Vargas also came out of the Sounders Academy and played last year for the Tacoma Defiance. Unlike Vargas, Ragen is a bit on the older side when it comes to prospects, after having spent four years at the University of Michigan. But Ragen seems to be making up for lost time, and seems to have already established himself as the Sounders’ first centerback off the bench. Watching him, it’s hard to square how the Sounders not only allowed him to enter the draft but then how the Chicago Fire let him walk away for the bargain-basement price of a third-round draft pick. As imposing of a figure as the 6-foot-5 centerback strikes, what’s most impressive about his game is his passing. Ragen is good with both feet, rarely seems to make bad decisions, and has been crucial to the Sounders’ ability to break pressure. It’s hard to see him displacing either Yeimar or Xavier Arreaga on a regular basis, but don’t be surprised if he logs more than 1,500 minutes across all competitions.
Leó Chú is learning to defend
If I had to pick a breakout player ahead of this season, I’d have identified Leó Chú as the most likely candidate. Admittedly, that was based mostly on his offensive abilities. Somewhat expectedly, he’s been as promised in that regard, especially when he’s able to get out in transition. For all his promise, though, he’s not gotten as much playing time as many of us had hoped. The reasons for that have never been entirely clear, but one possible explanation is that he’s sometimes lacked a bit defensively. In that sense, his performance against Austin may have opened up more playing time. Chú was hardly perfect in that match — his most memorable moment was a miss that could have made it 2-0 — but he was a willing defender and had several actions in and around the defensive box. That willingness to track back was surely noticed by the coaching staff.
This team is at least as deep as it was last year
Fueled in large part by the emergence of the players mentioned above, I think we can reasonably say that this team is at least as deep as last year’s and maybe even more so. Will Bruin recently called it the “deepest team I’ve ever been a part of,” and I have no reason to doubt him. While the Sounders’ 1-2-1 record in MLS play is nothing to get too excited about, they’ve also managed to go 2-0-2 in Concacaf Champions League play. This has all been accomplished while only getting about 300 combined minutes from Designated Players Raúl Ruidíaz and Nicolás Lodeiro. To add to that, Yeimar, who was the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in 2021, has missed the last two games and Stefan Frei missed the Austin game. Having those players back will obviously be very helpful, but I’m inclined to like the Sounders’ chances to make history even if some of them are still missing when they return from this break.
Cristian Roldan will be in the MVP conversation
It’s obviously way too early to be talking about post-season awards, but one player who I suspect will work his way into the MVP conversation is Cristian Roldan. I’ve long believed that his best position is as a No. 6, but his play as a winger over the past few years has forced me to reconsider. This year, he seems to be more settled on the right side and it shows in his increased playmaking. Through eight games, he has six primary assists, including one against Austin. The only season in which he had more was 2018, and that was in nearly 2,500 more minutes than he’s played this year. If he can come anywhere close to maintaining this pace while also adding a bit of goal-scoring, I think he’ll demand some attention.
Albert Rusnák is going to be fine
When Albert Rusnák signed as the highest-profile free agent in MLS history, it was on the tacit promise that the Sounders were getting someone capable of logging double-digit goals and assists. Through eight games, however, Rusnák only has a single assist. That has led to a fair degree of frustration, but I think it’s possible that he’s simply a different player than we had expected. During his eight games, whatever Rusnák has lacked in terms of finishing, he’s made up for with his ability to retain possession, his defensive workrate and a willingness to find his place in the team. At some point, he does have to start directly contributing to goals, but I think his value is showing up in other spots. The Sounders are outscoring opponents 12-4 when he’s on the field, which works out to +1.10 goal-difference per 90 minutes. If the Sounders can continue to perform at that level when he’s on the field, I suspect the rest will take care of itself.