Seattle Sounders designated player Nicolás Lodeiro's toughest challenge awaits versus Portland Timbers

Nicolas Lodeiro’s superb start to his MLS career has been well-documented. The Sounders’ new Designated Player has a goal and three assists in his first three matches since joining the club from Boca Juniors and has bossed the midfield in each of his outings.

Sunday’s match will not only be Lodeiro’s first match against bitter rival Portland Timbers, but one of his first real tests against a truly gifted offensive counterpart. Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe is one of MLS and U.S. Soccer’s brightest young talents and Sunday’s result will likely be determined by whomever is able to step up more. Slowing down either, though, is no easy task.

“We’ve always liked Darlington, he’s been a good pickup for them, watching him at Akron, watching him grow over the years,” Sounders interim head coach Brian Schmetzer said Friday. “When he gets the ball and is able to run at you, he’s very dangerous. ... He’s a good dribbler.

“Now the difference might be that when Lodeiro turns and faces you, he can dribble, yes, he can do that, but he’s dribbling at you to find that next pass and I think that’s probably the difference between those two.”

The Sounders are hoping those next passes can lead to goals. They rued a plethora of misses chances in their last meeting with the Timbers, a 3-1 loss in Portland in July.  The addition of Lodeiro should give Sounders' forwards even better opportunities to score on Sunday and force the Timbers’ back line to be more cognizant of the whereabouts of Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey.

“[Lodeiro] can get the ball in midfield and play there and operate there so Clint and I can stay a little higher up the field and look to combine more in front of goal,” Morris said.

Lodeiro’s presence on the ball and ability to hold up possession will also be a key factor, as the Sounders were crippled on the counterattack in last month’s match. The more time Lodeiro and company can control the ball in midfield means fewer opportunities for Nagbe and fellow Portland midfielder Lucas Melano to run at defenders.

The Timbers scored just shy of halftime in their last meeting and never looked back. Diego Valeri’s goal set the tone and it resonated throughout the match. Scoring early, especially at home, is something on which Seattle is focused. Portland is winless on the road this season as well as all-time in Seattle in regular season MLS play.

“The statistics are staggering in our league, the team that scores first wins the majority of the time,” said Schmetzer. “It’s always nice to get a lead early and you dictate tempo, pace, all of those types of things.”

Part of controlling the pace will be limiting that of Nagbe, who has a goal and five assists in 19 matches this season. The easiest way to do that: Keep the ball away from him, which is exactly what Lodeiro will be expected to do. Three points depends on it.



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