After an early exit from Leagues Cup, Seattle Sounders (and Realio) have had a lengthy break from soccer. Although still in fourth place in the Western Conference, recent results have soured many fans on Seattle’s ability to compete at all, let alone for trophies. This Sunday the team faces Atlanta with a chance to right the ship and determine what is left to play for this season. Below is a recap of ratings so far this year, and some thoughts on the rest of 2023.
To no one’s surprise, the team leader and top performer is TAM player João Paulo. Oblivious to the struggles around him, JP has a single below-MLS-average rating, and has five matches with an elite 8 score. He continues to outperform the rest of the team.
Following JP is the resurgent Yeimar who has improved his rating nearly a half point over his 2022 number. This is a return to form from a consistently stellar Sounder who is flourishing with a new partnership in the back.
Next is the steady Albert Rusnák, who is at a solid MLS+ level, but his single 8 and single 5 ratings show that while consistent, he isn’t volatile in either a good or bad direction.
Top homegrown talent output from Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan close out the top five, but both have barely played in half the matches available, and the team is clearly hurting when these quality talents aren’t consistently available. When around, Morris has provided 9g/1a, and Roldan’s 2g/1a vastly undersells his value to the team.
Unfortunately, some of the biggest names on the team are also the year’s biggest disappointments. DPs Lodeiro and Ruidíaz are vastly underperforming their norm: Nico over eight seasons has averaged 6.73 and Raúl over six years is at 6.56.
These are massive drops for players expected to carry a lot of weight. Nico (1g/8a) is still active and creative, but his role has greatly diminished. He’s often at odds with the personnel around him or with his perceived role. Raul (4g/0a) has only made 14 appearances and has looked off in a majority of them, failing to be the attacker that’s so desperately needed.
Included in this list is Heber, who after a hot 2g/1a start, hasn’t scored in months, and Obed Vargas who was given numerous starts next to JP but put in below-MLS-level performances. He was rated MLS average in only one match this season.
Stefan Frei leads the ratings here; he was included for his great stats: 11 clean sheets, .86 GAA, and five MOTM awards from ratings. Always a good goalie, these are some of the best stats of his career.
Jackson Ragen is a big reason for Frei’s numbers, as he’s increased his rating average from 5.78 last year to a well above-average MLS rating as a consistent starter. His strong defense and distribution fits well with the Seattle defense, and he has a high ceiling to continue to grow into.
Another defender surprise is Cody Baker who came out of nowhere to earn a hardship call up and earned a first team contract via solid play. His ratings range from 5 to 7, with many sub appearances dropping him slightly below MLS average, but he’s a flexible piece of the defensive unit.
Rounding out the group is Léo Chú, who burst onto the scene in 2023 by realizing his talent through co-leading the team with eight assists, adding three goals, and being a consistently dynamic option on the wing. He is earning a full point over last season’s average, developing from bench option to quality MLS asset. In 2023 so far he’s earned two 9s, two 8s, and four MOTM awards, showing an extremely high upside and being an essential part of the team’s creativity.
What does it all mean?The first thing to jump out is that some players are indeed playing well, and the “Seattle Sounders are awful” narrative reflects some of the most recent performances, not the whole year. It seems like so long ago, but early in the year Seattle looked unstoppable. Cumulative numbers are averaging out, but we could return to the potential that we saw early on. This isn’t a bad team!Since 2019 the Sounders have had between 10-13 players at the end of the year who cumulatively average 6 or above in these ratings. Currently, 12 players in 2023 are averaging MLS average (6); however two of them are the backup keeper and a guy signed this week who has one appearance, so Seattle is tracking with historic rating trends. The biggest difference is in the highest performers. Outside of 2022, typically a Sounders team has three players scoring 6.8 or higher, with at least one person averaging over 7. This year there is just JP, and a considerable drop off after him. In other words, Seattle lacks multiple players who are scoring high (i.e. performing better consistently). That is a big problem.
Solutions from a ratings perspective
Nothing crazy here: Seattle needs players to earn higher ratings. They are lacking the ratings impact of at least two high-performing players. The easiest way to do that is to have known quantities play up to their abilities — i.e. for Raúl to start scoring, to get better output from the other two DPs, and for basically any offensive players outside of Chú to produce more. For Ruidíaz to get to his SSFC average of 12 goals, he needs eight in the last 10 matches, and that’s not impossible if he’s playing at his best. Héber doing anything offensively would be huge; he should be at MLS average, which is much higher than his current output. Replacing Cristian if he is out for a long period of time is nearly impossible, but there’s a group of young players (Reed Baker-Whiting, Obed, Dylan Teves) and older ones (Fredy Montero, Kelyn Rowe) who have not contributed enough from a ratings standpoint. A few above average ratings from the bench could lead to more Sounders wins and a jump in the standings. Finding out what value you have in Josh Atencio and whether fully rested Alex Roldan and Nouhou defensive bookends can allow for more forward pressure should be figured out ASAP. There is enough hope from these cumulative numbers that expectations should be this team plays much, much better than the last few months.