Midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and forward Jordan Morris have been two of the Seattle Sounders’ best players this season. Each has played a major role in the Sounders’ journey to the MLS Cup Final (5 p.m. PT; FOX, TSN, UniMas, KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360AM), but it offers the question: Who had a bigger impact? SoundersFC.com’s Will Parchman and Ryan Krasnoo debate.
KRASNOO: Let’s start with a concession: Jordan Morris had the second-best offensive rookie season in Major League Soccer history. Only Cyle Larin in 2015 scored more than Morris’ 12 regular-season goals. MLS deservedly named Morris its 2016 AT&T Rookie of the Year as the pressure mounted on him after Clint Dempsey was sidelined with an irregular heartbeat.
That’s all well and good, but if Nicolas Lodeiro did not arrive in late July, Morris is watching the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs at home after the Sounders fail to qualify.
Lodeiro is arguably the league’s best midseason signing in history and is already a top-five player in MLS. He brings world-class skill and an international pedigree while in the prime of his career.
PARCHMAN: As good as Lodeiro was this year, he wasn’t with Seattle the entire season. And for as much as Lodeiro helped turn around the Sounders’ year, he might not have even had the chance to spearhead that charge without Morris’s exploits before he arrived.
As we know now, Morris ended up with 12 regular-season goals (he now has 14 through the playoffs). And while he clearly benefitted from the partnership with Lodeiro later in the year, Morris scored seven of those 12 regular season tallies before Lodeiro arrived in late July. Of those goals, three were directly worth seven points: against the Union on April 16, against Columbus on April 30 and against Toronto FC on July 2. In the first two, his goal secured the win, and against TFC Morris’ goal helped secure a road draw at BMO Field.
That’s seven points directly influenced by Morris’s golden right foot while Lodeiro was still at Boca Juniors. For clarity’s sake, the Sounders cleared the seventh-place Portland Timbers by four points to make the playoffs.
KRASNOO: Lodeiro has been unfathomably clutch as well. He had four game-tying or -winning goals or assists in his 13 regular-season games, which was good for eight points. Seven points saved for Morris in 20 games, eight for Lodeiro in 13. I’ll bet he would have extended that advantage had he played another seven regular-season games.
PARCHMAN: Morris took five games to settle into a rhythm before hitting a stretch of four goals in four games. That got his eventual MLS Rookie of the Year campaign off to a hot start, and he never looked back. Even with the collective expectation not only of Sounders fans but of USMNT fans as well, Morris didn’t just play up to expectations. He exceeded them somehow.
KRASNOO: Some elite players are great finishers, others great assist men and still others at setting up the pass before the final pass. Lodeiro excels at all three.
Lodeiro finished the regular season with four goals and eight assists in just 13 matches. Just take a look at this points per 90 minutes comparison with David Villa, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, the three players who were nominated for MLS MVP this season. Only Wright-Phillips was responsible for more than Lodeiro.
He’s just as likely to slip in a through ball that leads to a 2-on-1 behind the defense as he is to score goals typically reserved for forwards. His movement on and off the ball is second-to-none and is a nightmare for defenses to plan for because they simply can’t anticipate where on the pitch he’ll be.
PARCHMAN: There are a number of factors that go into a season and why or why not teams may make the playoffs. But it’s safe to say that while the Sounders’ first half of the season was far from ideal, it could’ve been even more difficult had Morris not popped up with a few timely game-changing goals. And based on the numbers it certainly looks like the hole might’ve been too big for Lodeiro to help dig the team from had Morris not been bagging goals for fun.
Ultimately, though, Morris’s most impressive job this season was in expectation management.
As good as Lodeiro was, he entered MLS with something approaching a clean slate. A number of the league’s fans were left sprinting for YouTube highlights to familiarize themselves, and when he began producing at an incredible clip, all the better. But Morris, as a hometown kid who scored with the U.S. men’s national team almost a year before he even signed his first pro deal, was hardly an unknown. He’d been scrutinized beyond any Homegrown Player in league history, and as a starter from day one, he was expected to contribute. Now.
KRASNOO: Lodeiro’s ability to find spaces and work in tight windows forces defenders to keep close tabs on him, which can open up massive amounts of space for someone like Morris to occupy. Even when Lodeiro is not touching the ball, he’s having an impact because defenses have to account for him at all times, often to their own detriment. That’s akin to a shutdown cornerback in football who is the best at his position but finishes a season with little action — because opposing quarterbacks won’t throw in his direction.
PARCHMAN: Don’t forget, it was ultimately Morris’s goal against the Colorado Rapids in the Western Conference Championship that pushed the Sounders into their current position just one win from their first MLS Cup trophy. You know, the goal he scored with a bum knee and a virus after playing nearly 3,000 minutes in the regular season? That one. One of the most notable goals in Sounders history.
KRASNOO: Sure, Morris scored the game-winner in Colorado in a game in which Lodeiro was objectively quiet. But again, defenders spent so much effort on slowing down Lodeiro and mitigating his impact that it left a natural goalscorer like Morris in a 1-on-1 situation with a center back. That matchup doesn’t happen if teams don’t rightfully give Lodeiro that kind of respect.
He also has four goals in the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs — a Sounders franchise record for total postseason tallies — in just five matches. He almost singlehandedly ousted Supporters’ Shield-winning FC Dallas in the Western Conference Semifinals, scoring three of the team’s four goals in that two-leg series.
Morris had one of the best seasons in the Sounders’ eight-year MLS history. But Seattle doesn’t sniff the postseason, let alone the MLS Cup Final, without the arrival of Lodeiro.
PARCHMAN: Lodeiro’s certainly had his impact this season, but Morris’ was ultimately just a little bit more holistic.