FRISCO, Texas — There are no awards for Player of the Series in the 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, but if there were, the prize for the Seattle Sounders’ win over FC Dallas in the Western Conference Semifinals would belong to Nicolas Lodeiro.
The Sounders’ Designated Player recorded a brace in the first leg last week before icing the aggregate lead with a crucial away goal on Sunday. Lodeiro slid onto the receiving end of a Tyrone Mears cross that beat goalkeeper Chris Seitz in the 54th minute to quell a potential comeback for the hosts.
“Big players show up in big games,” said midfielder Brad Evans. “[Lodeiro] did exactly what he was supposed to do. He carries the team … Not that we’re riding his coattails, but he is the pivot for this team right now.”
Lodeiro was all over the pitch on Sunday. He led the team with 72 total touches and 11 crosses, all while having a 73 percent passing accuracy in FC Dallas’ half.
While he didn’t enjoy the same amount of free space as he did in the first leg, he switched wings with Jordan Morris after 30 minutes in an effort to alleviate the pressure coming from the left side. He kept Dallas defenders honest and forced them to respect his ability on the ball when he possessed on the flank, a small detail that won’t show up in any stat sheet but did wonders for the Sounders’ back line.
Lodeiro’s next challenge will come in the Western Conference Championship, against a Colorado Rapids team he hasn’t seen yet. The Sounders last played Colorado May 21, two months before he arrived to Major League Soccer from Boca Juniors.
The Rapids allowed a league-low 32 goals in 34 games in the regular season and feature United States national team goalkeeper Tim Howard, who made two huge saves in the penalty shootout on Sunday to lift Colorado past the LA Galaxy. Lodeiro will likely also have to deal with bruising USMNT defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones, as well as the challenge of playing at altitude for the first time since he joined the Sounders.
But if his performance so far in three playoff games is any indication, Lodeiro will continue to step up and deliver when he’s called upon and needed most.
“[Lodeiro] been instrumental since he stepped on the field,” said Herculez Gomez. “That’s why we brought him here.”