#3 Stefan Frei
Realio’s rating: 6.51 in 35 appearances
Community rating: 6.73
MLS App 27, Rating 6.30; CCL App 8, Rating 7.25; MOTM 8
2022 Recap: Frei was again an excellent goalie in 2022, even though the team failed to reach the playoffs. His stats suffered greatly from what he was used to as a Sounder — his goals against were nearly half a goal per match higher. He handled 65 more shots against than last year, but he also had a higher save percentage. The defense conceded seven penalty kicks. Through it all, Stefan was his usual self, showing zero sign of age as he made big saves, managed the game well from the back, and stepped up huge to earn a team-leading eight MOTM awards. One of these came against Club León in Mexico, as Frei was at his very best throughout Concacaf Champions League, standing on his head in goal and refusing to lose. Facing a massive 26 shots, Stefan made seven saves and didn’t concede the tying goal until the 91st minute. He followed this up by facing 25 shots, making another seven at-times acrobatic saves against NYCFC in the away leg to earn another pivotal draw and push Seattle to the final. Not to be outdone, he finished with a third stellar showing in the CCL final, earning a clean sheet as Seattle won a massive trophy. MLS play was a grind for Frei, as he sandwiched incredible CCL efforts around an awful “3” rating in a loss to San Jose where Stefan picked the ball out of the net behind him four times. Bungled saves by Frei gave away 2-0 and 3-1 leads that turned a walkover match into a contest, and the Earthquakes were happy to take the gift from Stefan and turn it into a 4-3 win. His only other below average rating came against LA Galaxy, as he got his footing all wrong while conceding an unnecessary goal against. These gaffes from Frei are rare, but seemingly present each year.
Going Forward: Winning eight MOTM awards as a goalie is a lot; however, it demonstrates how much opportunity Frei had to make noteworthy plays. This is the opposite of what Seattle wanted as a team, and in 2023 they will need to figure out how to lower the reliance on Stef to carry the defense. For as good as he is, the Sounders haven’t earned enough clean sheets with Frei in goal, instead keeping games low scoring and allowing the offense chances to earn points. A stronger midfield core that controls possession can easily change this defense into an utterly dominant one, able to compete with the best in the league, as the goals against Seattle this year were often fixable defensive lapses. Frei shows no sign of slowing down, and although he has missed a few games over his career to injury, he’s still as mobile as ever and his shot stopping and positioning seem close to his historical best. With a long and busy schedule ahead of them, Seattle will likely start Frei as much as possible, but giving him periodic rest may help him and the team perform better late in the season.
#2 Cristian Roldan
Realio’s rating: 6.76 in 34 appearances
Community rating: 6.57
MLS App 26, Rating 6.46; CCL App 8, Rating 7.75; MOTM 6
2022 Recap: Cristian Roldan was arguably the team MVP for 2022. Although hampered by international duty and injury absence throughout the season, he still managed 34 appearances and the second-highest cumulative rating for the Sounders. He started magnificently, scoring the highest of any Seattle player with a massive 7.75 rating throughout appearances in all eight CCL matches. He led the entire tournament with five assists and added a goal for good measure. Roldan had three assists as Seattle outscored Club León, then NYCFC, 6-1 in the two first legs at Lumen, putting the Sounders in prime position to make the final. He ensured that Seattle would host the final match of the tournament on equal footing after he earned the Sounders a tying penalty kick in the 9th minute of extra time in brutal conditions away to Pumas. A nearly tireless workhorse who played on the wide right most of the season, Roldan fit well as an attacker and creator. He earned similar offensive stats as in prior seasons (4 goals, 5 assists, 30 key passes); however, because he played more matches as a wide attacker, this was a somewhat disappointing output. At times he displayed a telepathic combination play with both his brother Alex on the wing and his buddy Jordan on the opposite side, linking up with each often throughout the season. One thing I liked from a 3-1 win against MInnesota in May: “The second half buff was real. Starting with a direct run in the 50th minute, Cristian won a penalty driving into the box. In the 54th minute he put a perfect ball in to Ruidíaz that should have been a goal. Doing it himself twenty minutes later, Roldan hit a no-look banger from outside the box to give Seattle a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Instead of running to the corner late, Cristian found an unmarked Lodeiro for a third goal.” This was the sort of impact Cristian had over much of the year, finding good angles to attack from wide areas and displaying excellent vision paired with sublime service from the wing. Unfortunately, the team stagnated and there were times when Cristian and company struggled to create anything offensively. When not given enough support via overlapping fullbacks or crossing options, Roldan didn’t have the dribbling or pace to create, instead settling for speculative crosses. When asked to move around the field, starting centrally in the attack or as a defensive midfielder, Cristian was above average, showing a great work rate and nose for the ball. At times he missed the precision and polish that comes when you play the same position consistently and have a better working relationship with the players around you.
Going Forward: Roldan showed a distinct drop in effectiveness from the start of the season, when he tore up the Champions League, to the end of summer and into fall, when he and the team limped unceremoniously along and ended the season without going to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Fighting injuries for a number of matches, Cristian was lucky not to miss more time with the amount of physicality his playstyle encourages. Added to his MLS and CCL workload were many international matches, which increased his travel and number of games played. Hopefully rejuvenated by his trip to Qatar as part of the USMNT (and his recent marriage!) Cristian should come into 2023 fit and motivated. A willing runner, his skill set does not obviously translate into a specific position, so he’s able to move around as the team needs. As solid and consistent as Roldan is on the wing, his play at defensive mid is one of the best on the team, so it remains to be seen whether he’ll remain primarily an offensive player or drop back and push other creative options around. There are big questions about the team lineup, with many players being able to move forward or back a line to meet team tactical needs. Cristian can slot in almost anywhere on the field, which lends flexibility but could limit his impact and offensive stats, but the expectation is that he’ll continue to drive the success of the team like he did in 2022.