#18 Ethan Dobbelaere – 5.33 in 3 appearances
Community rating – 5.42
MOTM = 0 High = 6 Low = 5
Ethan Dobbelaere probably wanted 2023 to be his breakout year. After turning 20 and getting eight appearances last season, he looked poised to get on the first team as he’d had some success in 2022 as an attacking wide player. That potential 2023 breakout was never realized, however, as Ethan only played in MLS three times for a total of 97 minutes (one start). He played 478 minutes and appeared eight times for Defiance. He was hampered by some injuries, but he couldn’t translate the growth and experience from last year into on-field improvements in the few chances he earned this year.
What I liked: Dobbelaere’s effort, speed, and better positioning on the wing showed up in the Austin match, as he created the game-winning set piece with strong pressing that forced a fortuitous foul. It's this aggression that, when channeled, plays well in MLS. Ethan was much improved this season at picking his spots; instead of always red-lining his effort, he used a more tactical approach to pressure and combining with teammates. Ironically, his last Sounders appearance was that winning start in Austin that saw Ethan on the wing for his final 79 minutes in Rave Green. Throughout limited time over the last two seasons, Ethan showed promise as an attacking fullback similar to Alex Roldan in skill set, but he didn’t get a chance to show a growth potential in that direction.
What I didn’t like: It's hard to know what Ethan could have done if he hadn’t been hurt on multiple occasions. He hustled and seemed to be improving the mental side of his game, but he struggled to show on-field worth. Often asked to be an attacking player, there were long stretches when Cristian Roldan was injured and the right side was wide open, but Dobbelaere didn’t take the opportunity. He wasn’t able to break through and show he was the logical next man up. His biggest flaw was relying too much on physical skills, not using enough creativity and technical skill to support Seattle’s attacking system. He might have that creativity, but it wasn’t obvious in the time that he played.
Moving forward: Ethan was picked up by DC United this week, so his time as a Sounder is over. He seems to best fit in an attacking fullback position, as a less technical player like Dobbelaere can lean into his speed and tenacity and be an overlapping presence. In this role he is only asked to cross a few times and can be a menace with pace and physicality. I don’t know whether he can learn to defend enough to play there, but simplifying the game for him looks to be the best course forward. His pace and effort is always there, but he doesn’t have the service and creative movement to be a solid attacking piece yet. Best of luck to Ethan in DC.
#17 Héber – 5.41 in 22 appearances
Community rating – 5.12
MOTM = 0 High = 7 Low = 5
Such high expectations for Héber coming into 2023! And after the first few matches (in which he scored twice), this looked like an incredible offseason signing for Seattle. Héber was expected to be a substitute scorer for Raúl Ruidíaz, able to start or come in as a change of pace, a playmaker and poacher — and early in the season it looked pretty good. Then he misplaced his scoring boots and the wheels fell off. After starting out gangbusters, Héber finished the year with a whimper, 20 appearances of frustration that resulted in this once-touted signing not seeing the field in the final five matches. He ended with 1062 minutes, two goals, and one assist. By all accounts this signing was an abject failure.
What I liked: Coming out of the gate and rating 7s in the first two matches as Seattle outscored its opponents 6-0 gave the impression that Héber was a fantastic addition. It's hard to know how much of the rest of Héber’s season was bad luck versus degradation of skills, as the entire team slumped at times. Héber underperformed his expected goals by over five goals in 2023! A total of seven goals would have put him second on the team and he’d have been viewed as a success. While xG isn’t a definitive stat, it's usually indicative of creative movement. That was backed up by the eye test, as Héber consistently got into great positions, connected well with teammates, and did nearly everything except score. Used at times in the 10 spot, Héber offered another option for creativity. In those early matches his movement and combination was part of a flowing, exciting group of attackers who interchanged and created dominant showings. With his back to the goal and bringing others into the attack, Héber was excellent, combining and showing at times elite vision and dynamic passing. A great example was in the May 17 Austin match where Héber had five shots and four key passes, including an assist on the only Sounders goal.
What I didn’t like: You can put your hand up the puppet of stats, but one that is clearly better than xG is G. And after those first two home matches, Héber didn’t add a single goal and had only one assist for the rest of the year. He kept doing some good things, but repeatedly missed the big chance or misconnected with teammates. It became almost comical as a series of inexplicable misses mounted up match after match. His teammates would find him in good spots only for his shot to go wide, his header to go over, or his touch to be just a bit too strong. Héber repeatedly forced good saves from keepers, but apparently lost the knack to shoot where the goalie wasn’t standing. For all his smart movement, he also didn’t create big chances from which others could take advantage. Ultimately, he added nothing to the score sheet for over a dozen appearances and was massively disappointing. He was brought in specifically to help support the attack when Raúl was unavailable or ineffective; that happened for most of the summer but Héber didn’t contribute despite numerous opportunities.
Moving forward: It’s hard to tell if Héber was snakebit or his skills truly fell off a cliff (or some of both) but as a forward in this league you cannot be that ineffective at the whole “putting the ball in the net” thing. By all accounts a great guy who continued to work hard, it's entirely possible that there's some quality there, but equally possible that Héber has lost the magic touch needed by elite strikers. That unknown combined with his large price tag makes it highly unlikely he’ll continue with the Sounders, a team that desperately needs production from the nine position. Just releasing Héber doesn’t solve the backup forward problem, though, and if he does go, the team will need to find someone who can fill that role.
#16 Abdoulaye Cissoko – 5.5 in 2 appearances
Community rating – 5.68
MOTM = 0 High = 6 Low = 5
A beneficiary of small sample size, checking in at #16 is AB Cissoko. He’s been a depth piece for years, but the emergence of others in front of him meant Cissoko found himself on the outside looking in for much of the year. With only two appearances (one start) Seattle didn’t need him as much as in previous years: he had 12 starts/900 minutes in 2021 and over 400 minutes in 2022. This year Cissoko went 90 minutes in his one start on July first, got a minute cameo a week later, and then didn’t see the field for the rest of the year. This was more about the depth of others in front of him and less about what Cissoko can do.
What I liked: AB was ready to go when Seattle needed a spot start at home versus Houston in early summer. He responded to the call with a full 90, and was part of a strong 1-0 effort. This game was dominated by the Sounders, especially after a Dynamo red card early in the second half, which meant lots of possession. Cissoko showed clean passing, going 70/75 (93 percent), and he combined well with Nouhou, Yeimar, and the midfielders to clean up any of the few Houston attempts. Holding the opponents to seven total shots, Cissoko was part of another Sounders shutout, and he adjusted well to the game speed and the players around him.
What I didn’t like: It’s hard to know whether Cissoko is past some of his negative tendencies without a larger sample size. In his only lengthy appearance this year, AB earned an 18th minute yellow card, putting himself and the team in a tougher defensive situation. He had a single tackle and one clearance, with Yeimar next to him having three and five respectively. While there is definitely skill at remaining in proper position and combining with teammates, having Nouhou and Yeimar around him cleaning up some potential issues made it difficult to rate, and Houston was so inept in the match that Cissoko wasn’t particularly tested. The yellow card he got was for an overzealous challenge across the field as he clattered into a player just outside the box; this is a repetition of past issues with physicality.
Moving forward: Cissoko was a nice depth piece that the team recognized, brought in, and developed for a specific role. Not an expensive or high level prospect, he fit his position on the team excellently, able to come in and spot start, give some size and physicality, and be deadly from the penalty spot when needed. With the development of other, higher level players, he apparently has already left the team looking for more consistent playing time. This is likely a win-win for both him and the Sounders, as he was at best the fourth center back here and he won’t get playing time given the talent ahead of him. AB is unlikely to suddenly surge past those who were blocking him here, and while that means he has possibly reached his skill potential, he might be a good depth piece for another team.
#15 Raúl Ruidíaz – 5.52 in 21 appearances
Community rating – 5.68
MOTM = 2 High = 8 Low = 4
Raúl Ruidíaz was a severe disappointment to all this year, as his time and output dropped yet again. After 26 appearances and 17 goals two years ago, Ruidíaz dropped to just 11 starts, contributing five goals and an assist. A combination of injury, international call ups, and poor form relegated him to missing matches or watching from the sideline for the first time in his Sounders career. At times Raúl could still dominate like his old self, but he faded in effectiveness and was part of a tactical transition as the team shifted from their DP-centric attack to a more balanced approach that didn’t feature him.
What I liked: In a 3-3 barnburner against Charlotte, Raúl was vintage deadly, earning an 8 rating and MOTM honors. Seattle kept conceding the lead and Raúl kept giving them another, scoring twice and being incredibly goal-dangerous throughout. “Raúl’s goals demonstrate how valuable he is and why he would be hard to replace. Effective at build up, Ruidíaz can score in so many ways. The first was an “I'm just better than you” goal where he took a ridiculous distance+angle and slammed the ball home from 25 yards. The second was more cerebral, as he found the right run and finished clean after a roadblock in front of him missed the ball. That back post run was a tricky one, something Seattle greatly missed without Raúl.“ This was a great reminder of how DP-level strikers like Raúl can completely change a match on their own. He was similarly dominant against Portland prior to Léo Chú’s red card in a 2-2 tie at the start of September, scoring and assisting on the two Sounders goals, combining perfectly with Léo and torturing an outmatched Timbers team at home in what should have been a blowout.
What I didn’t like: Raúl drifted in and out of effectiveness in 2023, and was more often out than in, unfortunately. Long stretches of being hurt didn’t help, but it was telling that in Seattle’s last 10 matches of the year Raúl only played four times, averaging just 28 minutes as a sub, and he contributed zero goals or assists. What's even more alarming is he only had two shots on target in those four appearances. Once one of the most dominant playoff performers in the league, Ruidíaz barely featured and contributed almost nothing as Seattle played Dallas and LAFC. This was predictable, though, as Raúl had big gaps due to injury this season and each time his production dropped. At times when he played, he seemed unsure how to connect with the tactical movements of players around him, and this was no doubt part of the reason he didn’t feature late for a surging Sounders team, as Seattle found a winning combination that didn’t include Raúl and rode that until the end.
Moving forward: Seattle already moved forward without Raúl in their last dozen matches, and they were pretty effective without him, their once reliable striker and pillar of the team. A number of things could happen in 2024. Ruidíaz is still under contract and could be able to show that his struggles were more physical than tactical: a healthy offseason may bring the “old Raúl'' back to prominence. If not, he probably won’t feature much next year. There is also a decent chance that adding a new wide player and some tactical moves will better fit what Raúl can do, giving him an opportunity to show that he's still a killer up front. Raúl’s dominant combinations with Nico became a bit of tunnel vision for both, and moving on from reliance on that connection may help Raúl. In any event, the team will need to evaluate what they have and need in order to either integrate a rejuvenated Raúl or move on from him in the upcoming months.