#6 Raúl Ruidíaz
Realio’s rating: 6.50 in 24 appearances
Community rating: 6.53
MLS App 18, Rating 6.33; CCL App 6, Rating 7.00; MOTM 5
2022 Recap: Again, Raúl finishes towards the business end of Realio’s Ratings in a season that was a struggle with injuries and absences, but ended up like previous years from a ratings standpoint. In a nutshell: when healthy, Ruidíaz was excellent and up to his high standards — but he wasn’t healthy enough throughout the season, which drastically limited his output. Raúl had nine goals with two assists in MLS play, and another three goals in CCL. This led the Sounders, but after 17 goals in 2021, was a huge dropoff. When he looked good, Raúl was fantastic: “Three shots, all on goal, and clean finishing in the 12th and 34th minutes to earn a brace. These were striker’s goals, earned by movement and vision and realized through great execution” came from an important win versus Austin. Not just a poacher, he showed creative ability when paired with a striker (Jordan Morris) in another MOTM performance versus LAG. Raúl found six shots, two key passes, a goal and an assist while dropping back and working off Jordan’s vertical movement. Seattle is much more effective when Raúl is given time, whether it’s in the box finishing or dropping to create space for himself to then ghost into scoring areas. Unfortunately, in 2022 he was often returning from a nagging injury and the rust showed.
Going Forward: Ruidíaz needs to play and stay healthy for the Sounders to be at their best, but he also needs to redevelop the chemistry with teammates from his early Sounders success. Seattle felt more explosive with him on the field, but the Sounders only won eight MLS matches he played in (8 wins, 9 losses, 1 draw). A lot of this was due to inconsistency in service, as Raúl found spots without the ball, or vice versa too often. Ruidíaz needs service to his feet (not his head) and excels at ghosting into the box and finishing clean from nearly everywhere. Solidifying Seattle’s midfield behind him should create better chances for Raúl, and getting Heber as a backup and/or partner for him was a strong move that should also help. Resting Ruidíaz or allowing him more opportunities to find success within positive game states will help to maintain his effectiveness throughout the season. Ultimately, his success in 2023 will be determined by whether or not the midfield can create offensive possession and space for Raúl to do his thing.
#5 Nicolás Lodeiro
Realio’s rating: 6.50 in 34 appearances
Community rating: 6.38
MLS App 28, Rating 6.32; CCL App 6, Rating 7.33; MOTM 5
2022 Recap: When healthy, Lodeiro has consistently averaged ratings of 7 for Seattle, but 2022 was a step back from that as he was good, not great in MLS play after being excellent in CCL. The early season was dominated by Nico showing he was fully back from injury, with back-to-back MOTM performances versus San Jose in league, and an essential result versus Pumas away in Mexico. He followed these up with a well-deserved 9 rating in the CCL final. He was the second-highest scoring player in the entire CCL tournament with five goals and two assists. As Seattle lost defensive structure behind him, Nico spent much of the rest of the MLS season on a rollercoaster of results. He looked “normal” and dropped an 8 rating away to Toronto where he paired with Danny Leyva as a defensive midfielder and was unstoppable. But then he earned lower-than-MLS-average ratings against Portland and Orlando in away losses where he combined for a single key pass in two important matches. Other games were similar, where Nico wasn’t on the same page as his teammates behind or in front of him, and while dominating the ball in possession, was unable to create consistent chances for his team. With nothing to play for, a vintage Lodeiro returned for the last match of the year, as he scored mere seconds into the match and then pushed dominantly into the attack for the next 90 minutes, earning four shots and scoring both Seattle goals as he showed how effective he could be joining the attack. His up and down season ended with a very respectable 12 goals and 13 assists combined over 34 appearances.
Going Forward: That last stat looks pretty nice for the captain of the team, until you realize that nine of his 12 goals were in CCL or from the penalty spot, and two more came on the last day of a dead MLS season. A single goal from Lodeiro in the run of play must be improved upon. His assist numbers were strong and comparable to what he has provided previously, but even with the weapons around him, Nico in 2022 struggled to unlock the high probability shots from teammates that he had in the past, instead focusing often on numerous speculative crosses that led to low percentage chances. Lodeiro is likely nearing the end of his Sounders prime as he will cross 34 in 2023. With the increased depth returning to the team, hopefully Nico can get some rest to facilitate his production throughout a long season. He still has the workrate and ability to be a top midfield creator in MLS, but there are other creative options on the wing, and being a deeper playmaker may extend his effectiveness longer. It’s vitally important that Nico quickly acclimate his style to returning and new teammates in order for Seattle to leverage a fast start and put the disappointing end to 2022 behind them.
#4 Xavier Arreaga
Realio’s rating: 6.51 in 25 appearances
Community rating: 6.19
MLS App 17, Rating 6.44; CCL App 8, Rating 6.75; MOTM 2
2022 Recap: It may be a surprise to see Arreaga ranked this high, but he came into his own, limited his mistakes and found more consistency in his play. Playing centrally or left central on the back line, Xavier only had two below MLS average match ratings all season — in the first match of the year, and then in late August. In between he was rock solid, posting average or above with some stellar outings that earned him plaudits such as this in a MOTM performance during a win versus Charlotte: “With JP out, Xavi has increased his direct aggression centrally and, in this match, it was game-changing. Arreaga had 16 incisive passes into the Charlotte half (more than Alex, Obed, Jordan, etc). His ability to step up and be a deep distributor, bypass lines of defense, and push vertical passes directly to Nico Lodeiro and the other attackers contributed again and again to big chances for Seattle. He consistently found Morris over the top after breaking the defensive lines, and his passing forward was phenomenal.” It was this vertical passing that set Arreaga apart from others, as he constantly displayed the desire and ability to combine through lines of defense, stretch the field, and be an offensive catalyst from the back. The greatest improvement from Xavier in 2022 was his consistency, as he rarely made the big mistakes that clouded previous years. His accurate forward passes nearly doubled his average output from previous seasons, and he became an important part of progressive possession, ultimately leading to five key passes thanks to his much-improved direct play. Defensively, he was also more aggressive, which led to higher rates of interceptions and forward tackling, but he only committed 18 fouls all season, limiting costly opponent set piece opportunities that had been a detriment to his play previously. Xavier did struggle, like the rest of the defense, to deal competently with quick counter attacks, as he was often pushing at different angles to his teammates which opened gaps through central channels. His duel percentage and contested defensive actions dropped in effectiveness and were part of a systemic struggle with transition play. Seattle’s propensity to concede first put a lot of pressure on the team and changed to negative gamestates more often than in past seasons.
Going Forward: Arreaga was the highest rated defender on the Sounders in a year when the defense was still ninth best in the league by goals against. The team was never blown out. With the offense struggling, any goals against seemed outsized, and it was easy to overlook the defense that kept the team in close matches throughout the year. A better midfield and attack likely helps the backline not have to push so aggressively, which may limit the transition goals Seattle conceded. Game state also forced Seattle to play from behind a lot, and risks taken often seemed to be punished at will by opponents. Xavier has shown that he can pass aggressively when the midfield is lacking the full control we are used to, but relying on him to force forward passes should be only after Seattle has exhausted other options. At 28 years old, Arreaga should be expected to continue similar form in 2023, and adding more talent and depth to the midfield should only increase his defensive numbers. Xavier showed the consistency that Seattle needed in 2022, and we should expect similar results in the upcoming year.