Starting off 2023 MLS season with two dominant wins is no easy task. Driven by the performances of their central midfield trio, the Seattle Sounders have been able to pick up six points against Western Conference opponents at Lumen Field.
The Rave Green’s recent victories over the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake showcased the significance of veteran players Nicolás Lodeiro, João Paulo and Albert Rusnák in the middle of the pitch. While the three midfielders are nominally in the six, eight and 10 positions, they serve much larger roles in the game, supporting teammates in multiple areas of the field while dictating the tempo.
“There are a lot of guys out there that would say games are won or lost in the midfield and we have an advantage over a lot of teams in that area,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “You're looking at extremely talented players… I mean, we'll have to have some rotations, but right now those three are playing at a high level.”
A quick glance at the passing stats in last weekend’s game against Real Salt Lake makes it clear that Lodeiro, João Paulo and Rusnák were key components in the buildup of opportunities for the Rave Green. Out of 639 passes executed among the entire team, Lodeiro finished with 77, João Paulo, 76, and Rusnãk, 82, accounting for one-third of the Sounders’ overall distribution rate.
The three midfielders’ versatility on both sides of the pitch is apparent in more ways than one.
Positioned as the more attacking midfielder, Lodeiro is one of the main targets for scoring or assisting his teammates for chances of their own. While he hasn’t gotten on the score sheet yet, his influence on the field is evident.
HIGHLIGHTS: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake | March 4, 2023
“[Nico’s] impact is amazing,” said midfielder Cristian Roldan. “The way he drags players, the way he filters balls, his presence is really important for our team and moving forward he's going to be just fine with goals and assists.”
Sitting underneath Lodeiro, João Paulo and Rusnák demonstrate different techniques when it comes to building up into the attack, but share the same objective when it comes to the progression of potential scoring chances for the team.
“I'd say Albert and João [Paulo], they're a really good pairing,” Roldan said. “Albert gives a little bit of that composure on the ball, knows when to speed up the play and knows when to dribble, and then João [Paulo] brings that balance between being an enforcer and then also playing a penetrating pass or a long ball.”
But it’s the way the midfield trio works as a unit that ultimately provides the Sounders with the opportunities to be successful.
“We're getting the ball to them because they're the ones who create the game,” said defender Alex Roldan. “We want the ball in their feet because they're really going to make the right passes and create a lot of good things for our team.”
The Sounders return to action on Saturday as they face their first road test of the year, traveling to take on Eastern Conference contenders FC Cincinnati (4:30 p.m. PT | Watch Free on Apple TV) at TQL Stadium.
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