#3 Yeimar – 6.57 in 37 appearances
Community rating – 6.40
MOTM = 3 High = 8 Low = 4
While others on the team had more buzz around their play, Yeimar had another quietly fantastic season. He led the team in appearances, an iron-man season in which he remained healthy, available, and effective. A key part of a league-leading defensive unit, the big Colombian was the highest rated of all the Sounders defenders, earning a high score almost every time he played. Paired with the possession-conscious Jackson Ragen and next to the attack-minded Alex Roldan, Yeimar was an aggressive defender who was rarely beaten and consistently supported possession and attack from the right side. In 2023, Yeimar was comfortably positioned high up the field to press defensively, relying on his instincts and central cover as a key part of Seattle's suffocating possession style.
What I liked: Some defensive adjustments, the emergence of Ragen, and a full year of João Paulo patrolling the defensive midfield meant Yeimar was unleashed to play his best brand of attacking central defense. He led the league in interceptions, with a dozen more than the second best guy. He was incredible at jumping passing lanes, anticipating the opponent's movement, and using his quickness to steal possession. Outside of interceptions, his numbers weren’t spectacular, but he was still excellent at just about everything. He only rated below average five times all year, and he was above average 26 times, including multiple 8 ratings. These scores came when he showcased his counter-pressing ability to push a high defensive line, anticipated and stole opponent clearances, and limited the counter attacks that hurt Seattle in previous seasons. In fact, Yeimar was credited with zero errors leading to a shot by an opponent in 2023. He was the lone attacking threat from the defensive line, scoring twice, including a 91st minute game-winner against rival Vancouver. Yeimar’s steady defensive play paired with his improved linkup on offense led to an excellent year.
What I didn’t like: The same issues that were problem points for Yeimar before were still occasionally seen in 2023, with his erratic passing the biggest culprit. He was very good at connecting passes (and had by far his best progressive passing season), but you never knew when he might pass directly to the opponent. This random occurrence was infuriating, as most of the time he’d make good passes all match and then suddenly he’d send the ball directly to an opponent in a dangerous area. 2023 was also odd in that he was fantastic at anticipating, but his tackle rate was only 50 percent, one of the lowest of his career. Oh, and he had one howler, against the hated Timbers, and this is what I said:
“This was one of the worst Yeimar performances we have seen. Seemingly befuddled by Timbers’ wide players, Yeimar auditioned for the Kraken and skated all over Portland’s field for the evening. The cracks showed in the first half, as Yeimar frequently gave away possession on the way to a lousy 69 percent passing rate … Yeimar wasn’t great defensively and his positioning was off all match. He compounded this by getting caught in no man’s land on the bicycle goal and looking somehow worse on the second one, being dribbled around and watching as Seattle conceded the lead. During the third he again over-committed. Goal four he under-committed, as he and Ragen watched Juan Mosquera score.”
Moving forward: Outside of that cursed game in Portland, Yeimar was a clear DPOY candidate who, like his teammates, was ignored when it came to acknowledgements for their incredible defending. The combination with Ragen looks to be the best central pairing in the league, and Yeimar has almost perfected the positioning and movement to release Roldanery down the right wing ahead of him. His combination of size and speed counters nearly every attacker in the league, and he was a key part of a defense that was end-to-end and everywhere in between. Aggressively attacking the ball and creating turnovers, physically dominating target forwards, winning aerials against anyone, and matching attackers’ speed, Yeimar is the complete defensive package. Keep surrounding him with talented partners, and he should be able to maintain this level of play for years.
#2 Cristian Roldan – 6.60 in 20 appearances
Community rating – 6.97
MOTM = 3 High = 8 Low = 5
Perhaps the most valuable player on the entire team clocks in at #2. A top-five rated Sounder in each of the last five seasons, Cristian Roldan earned his second straight #2 ranking in 2023. Even with limited minutes, he was a huge part of Seattle’s success. He was firmly ensconced at right midfield from the minute he walked out on opening day with my son. Cristian was a game changer from the wing, intricately combining with teammates before bursting into space and finding the dangerous pass. His constant determination created opportunity for Seattle, and the little things he did right added up every match. He had 3g/3a as an offensive activator while bringing incredible counter pressing and defensive energy from both wide areas and central when he tactically drifted infield to support. Injury forced him to earn only 14 regular season starts, and Seattle struggled when Roldan wasn’t there.
What I liked: With Cristian on the field, the Sounders found balance, both from his ability to work wide with his brother and offset the left leaning push via Léo Chú, but also centrally, as Roldan is so tactically aware and smoothly transitions into the middle when needed. It was this opportunistic movement that saw him score and assist in multiple ways, whether over the top off a dead ball from Ragen, driving to the end line to chip back post for the head of Jordan Morris, or intricately linking on the wing before pushing Atencio or Morris through centrally. This versatility led to his 3g/3a, but more importantly the entire team played better with him on the field because he made everyone better. This is what I said about a dominant win against St. Louis late in the season:
“Cristian is back healthy and so the Sounders are rolling. Leading the team with both three shots and three key passes, Roldan assisted on the first goal and did a bit of everything on the offensive side. He added multiple dribbles and forced STL to foul him constantly.”
This is what he does, combining intricately with teammates, releasing them or himself, and making the right play until he, or his teammates, score. And then he does it again, and again.
What I didn’t like: Concussions are no joke, and Roldan got at least one bad one in 2023. This limited his time, and it was scary as he tried to work back to game speed while clearly trying not to head the ball or initiate contact. A number of setbacks pushed him to multiple experts to try to ensure his long term health. Thankfully, he appeared to be nearly back to normal by the end of the season, but in the interim there was speculation that his soccer career might be over. By all accounts the Sounders were focused on Cristian’s health, the only thing that matters. Because of some setbacks and necessary caution, the Sounders played without an essential contributor on their team for months. They couldn’t adjust when he was gone nor replace what he brings, as without Cristian, much of the balance was lost. Returning him to the lineup helped, but he wasn’t as effective in the playoffs, ending the year with just okay performances.
Moving Forward: It appears that the concussion issues are behind Roldan, and a healthy offseason should continue any long term healing necessary. He has now had a bad head injury, though, and going forward, the game’s physical challenges will lead to some anxious moments. That may influence the way he plays, or maybe he’ll be the near-indestructible player he has been every other year and crush 2024 like always. Thinking about Seattle adding more direct goal options on the other side, Cristian’s ability to combine centrally with a more positionally cohesive Albert Rusnák, and a full year of him looking for his buddy Morris over the top, and Roldan could be even more dominant in 2024. Instead of working around Nico Lodeiro’s movement, there’s an opportunity for the new central group to be an amorphous attacking unit using tactical IQ to move and switch positioning, supporting and pushing forward with some stylish, and hopefully productive, football.