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Realio’s Ratings: Seattle Sounders vs. 2023, #27-#23

The first five in this year’s wrap-up features a living legend, last year’s top defender, and three youngsters with varying degrees of upside.

Last Updated
8 min read

2023 was a quintessential Sounders season. When looking objectively at the team in preseason, there was reason for optimism. A hot start made people think really big, but an incredibly poor summer cooled those aspirations off greatly. Righting the ship and stringing together a solid few months to end the season meant Seattle finished second in the West, but still had many questions to answer. This rollercoaster season ended with a middle-of-the-road feeling and defensible arguments could be made that the team both under- and over-achieved in 2023.
Throughout the year, I continued to rate each player for every match after a rewatch. This series of articles will present a recap of players ranked in reverse order using data from all 2023 ratings. With major changes coming and the return to silly season imminent, please join me as we recap the year that was from the perspective of your faithful ratings writer.

Also, please feel free to ask if you want more in-depth data on these players, as I have game-by-game breakdowns, historical data on some players for eight-plus years, and tons of other info if you have specific questions.

Please keep in mind a few things when looking at these recaps:

  • Ratings aren’t the only way to judge a player, and these should not be considered “official.” It’s merely how these players came out in my ratings for the season. While higher ranking players are likely better performers, using ratings to say “X player is better than Y” is not the full picture. There are tons of variables that go into ranking different players, so please take them with the requisite grain (or grains) of salt and understand I am attempting to rate against an “MLS average” scale which is continuously evolving.
  • Sample size matters. A lot. Two late-game appearances where a player didn’t look completely out of touch may get him a cumulative 6 rating, but another guy who played 20 games and got a 5.9 may be a better player and more valuable to the team. Please consider how much some guys played and realize how sample size can skew both directions. It’s also important to note that subs tend to start lower on the scale, and some players who played well but only as subs may be ranked lower than you might expect, and vice versa.

#27 Obed Vargas – 4.97 in 24 appearances 

Community rating – 5.42

MOTM = 0 High = 6 Low = 4

In what might be a surprise for anyone following ratings, the lowest rated player on the year was its youngest, Obed Vargas. He came into the year with hype and momentum from a solid 2022 season, and he nearly doubled his number of appearances from 13 to 24. Often starting, Obed was, for quite a while, the chosen central defensive midfielder to pair with João Paulo. He showed that he’s an average midfielder for an MLS team, but ultimately had more below average matches than average, dropping him down the rankings. 

What I liked: Obed played in 15 straight matches from June to October. He clearly had the confidence of the coaching staff to not only play, but to start and help run the team centrally. Vargas improved physically, showing a stronger body to fight through tackles and deal with the grind of a long season. His completion rate was high, as Obed rarely turned the ball over. He had relatively proficient tackling numbers, showing a dedication to defense that grew over the season. Perhaps his best moments came in sub appearances when he showed glimpses of attacking style; a few times he displayed fluid, dynamic attacking movement and combination which gives a tantalizing glimpse of what he could grow into as a two-way player. 

What I didn’t like: Although he showed MLS-level talent, Vargas never rated above average, failing to show the upside like he did in international call-ups. It was perhaps most telling that the Sounders played some of their best soccer immediately after Obed subbed out of defensive midfield. Obed looked hesitant to show aggression or exhibit the attacking play that had endeared himself to fans, instead opting for safe, backwards passes and controlled play. He seemed to have little confidence in himself going forward, playing tentatively and cautiously. This was at odds with his primary central partner, as JP avoided combining with Vargas at times and Vargas didn’t release JP into impactful areas, instead requiring the veteran to babysit his positioning. 

Moving forward: Still only 18 years old, Vargas has earned progressively more minutes as a Sounder and still has plenty of time to demonstrate the talent that he obviously possesses. His ratings were a little harsh, based on his number of appearances and lack of enough impact to move the scale, but he still turned in 1,350 minutes. If he can build on his sparkling 87 percent passing, he has the physical tools to become a quality MLS talent. He was not the worst player on the team, just a victim of his poor play being amplified by how many games he played. There is a great opportunity for Obed to raise his play in 2024, and his ratings should follow.

#26 Sota Kitahara – 5.00 in 1 appearance

Community rating – 5.48

MOTM = 0 High = 5 Low = 5

Sota Kitahara had one appearance for the Sounders, with the 20-year-old getting a single four minute cameo in 2023. This came in Kansas City, as the Sounders blew out the Sporks 4-1. 

What I liked: The Sounders academy, developmental program, and Tacoma Defiance are improving exponentially, adding quality players at younger ages every year. Sota is another player who is only 20, yet already signed to a pro contract due to his performance. He got daily practice with first team players, gaining invaluable experience. Creating viable pathways to the pros and rewarding young players are things that pay off. 

What I didn’t like: Signing someone to a first team contract doesn’t guarantee time, but I imagine he would have liked to see the field more than four minutes this year. He got 842 Tacoma Defiance minutes in 10 appearances (all starts) but only earned a single assist as there were much more impactful players at Starfire. 

Moving forward: There may not be room for Kitahara in a crowded midfield dominated by players who are doing solid work with the minutes they are given. The first thing he needs to do is force the staff to play him more, and then capitalize on that. The good news is he is young and cheap and has plenty of upside to see if he can do better in the upcoming seasons. He is already signed for 2024 and needs to get bigger, stronger, and faster to see if he can have a breakout year. 

#25 Danny Leyva – 5.00 in 3 appearances

Community rating – 5.13

MOTM = 0 High = 5 Low = 5

Leyva appeared three times for the Sounders before being shipped off to purgatory in Colorado. As an intra-league loanee, Leyva was given a chance to grow outside of a crowded Sounders midfield, and to improve on three forgettable late-game sub cameos early in the Seattle season. The results for the Rapids were mixed, with Danny showing just okay as his team was absolutely dreadful. 

What I liked: After only seeing 21 minutes of time for Seattle, Danny got 636 minutes with the Rapids, including six starts. This valuable experience came within the MLS environment, allowing him to get time that wasn’t available in Seattle. He was given a chance to get out of the comfort of the club he's been at since his teenage years, and gain the experience of being in another city, around other professional players. In Colorado, he drew a lot of fouls and showed good anticipation in creating interceptions defensively. Getting a different perspective on MLS and Seattle from the outside is a good thing.

What I didn’t like: When presented with a chance to go display his abilities with another team, Leyva didn’t show anything spectacular. After being given opportunities to excel, Danny’s status dropped and he was utilized for fewer and fewer minutes as his loan stint went on, which is worrying. Playing badly as part of a truly terrible team isn’t surprising, but not being a useful part of said bad team may mean neither side learned much. His tackling numbers were poor, and his reputation remains as more of a finesse defender than enforcer. 

Moving forward: If the goal was to showcase a dynamic young talent and then sell him at a higher valuation point, it's unlikely this succeeded. Leyva didn’t differentiate himself from the young players he was competing with in Seattle, and likely showed the opposite — that he’s behind them. While not his fault that Colorado was awful, his inability to cement himself as a good player on a bad team means Seattle may do something similar next season to try to suss out his ceiling without trying to find him Sounders minutes. 

#24 Xavier Arreaga – 5.14 in 14 appearances

Community rating – 5.62

MOTM = 0 High = 6 Low = 5

It’s hard to know what the original lineup would have been had he been healthy, but it's entirely possible that Arreaga got Wally Pipped. After being 2022’s highest rated defender in these very ratings, you’d imagine he was the intended starter at left center back going into 2023. Xavier was injured in preseason, however, and by the time he made his first appearance in the fourth game of the year, Seattle already had seven points and Jackson Ragen had established himself as a true force in the back. 

What I liked: From a fan’s vantage point, Arreaga seemed to take his benching in stride, always ready to play, eventually seeing the field 14 times (three starts). In those matches he did everything that was asked of him, never making a fatal mistake, tucking his jersey in, and smiling that smile with aplomb as he saw out results. With Seattle holding onto late leads, Arreaga was often inserted as a defensive insurance policy, tasked with holding onto a point or three, which he did every time; Xavi only played in two losses all season, both starts. 

What I didn’t like: Usually coaches don’t like to take away your position due to injury, but Brian Schmetzer plays momentum and Ragen was fantastic all year, so it was ultimately the best decision. That was unfortunate for Xavier who did everything right, but just got screwed by circumstance. Having his salary constantly pointed out as a detriment to the team was unfair as well, especially if he was indeed the incumbent starter. It was hard to showcase his ability when the team was putting up historically high defensive numbers.

Moving forward: That aforementioned salary is likely a talking point in the offseason, which is more a byproduct of an excellent season by a cheaper player than anything Xavi has control over. Arreaga is a great option as an extra defender due to his ability to play on both sides of the field, but there may be cheaper options, and he probably wants to start, which his play has earned. A trade that allows him to start for another team and gives Seattle some salary relief may be in the best interest of everyone involved, but until then, Seattle is very deep at the center back position. 

#23 Fredy Montero – 5.19 in 17 appearances

Community rating – 5.34

MOTM = 1 High = 7 Low = 4

Fredy returned to Seattle on a very friendly contract and was expected to be a deep bench option at forward after Seattle shuffled the attack depth. He had 17 appearances and 435 minutes as the Sounders looked for scoring and creation from a variety of sources. He had two starts, away matches at Cincinnati and Vancouver. 

What I liked: On June 7, a dreadful and winless SKC team came into Seattle and dominated the Sounders. Fredy was one of the few players who injected effort into the losing match. He helped create the lone Sounders goal while being the catalyst for any hope of a result. Montero brought passion to the match against Austin FC two weeks later, again coming in and showing needed effort as he scored late and nearly willed the team to points. 

What I didn’t like: Just two appearances after June meant Fredy wasn’t part of over half the season, missing both the rough times and the resurgence. He wasn’t just forgotten, he was usurped by a deep team looking for answers and not thinking an aging, fourth-string striker was the answer. 

Moving forward: Fredy Montero is a team legend and was already on a team-friendly contract. His play didn’t make him any less expendable, but he brings value as a culture and leadership figure who can set a stellar example of what this team is about. He shouldn’t be counted on to produce consistently on the field, but you could do a lot worse for end-of-the-roster players.