The Seattle Sounders have been decimated with injuries to start the 2018 Major League Soccer season. Regular starters Jordan Morris (torn ACL), Will Bruin (concussion), Víctor Rodríguez (knee sprain), Ozzie Alonso (quad strain) and Kelvin Leerdam (ankle sprain) have all missed time, with Rodríguez and Alonso yet to factor and Leerdam making his season debut last week at Chivas.
No player’s injury is perhaps more crushing than Designated Player Nicolás Lodeiro, who is currently sidelined with a right midfoot sprain. Lodeiro missed the Sounders’ last two matches — two 3-0 losses to Chivas in CONCACAF Champions League and at FC Dallas in MLS play — and his absence was sorely felt.
Lodeiro is a midfield workhorse. Prior to his foot injury, Lodeiro had played in 58 of the Sounders’ 60 MLS regular season and postseason matches since he arrived in July 2016. The only two matches he missed were because of separate yellow-card accumulation suspensions. And in those 58 matches, he played all but five minutes, going the full 90 in 56 of them.
When the Sounders went into FC Dallas last weekend, it was already an uphill battle. They were on short rest after travel from Guadalajara and were down to only one nominal forward in Clint Dempsey, which forced him out of his normal role at the No. 10. Seattle didn’t have Lodeiro pulling the strings underneath from his inverted winger position, and it showed. The Sounders held only 46 percent possession and had 80 fewer passes than FCD.
On Sunday, no Sounders player had more than 62 total passes, 76 touches or three key passes. Against LAFC in the season opener, Lodeiro connected for 103 passes, had 143 touches and eight key passes. He was the main reason why Seattle had 60 percent possession and fired off 22 shots.
Take a look at the way Lodeiro processes the following sequence. Magnus Wolff Eikrem has the ball on the right side of the pitch, and Lodeiro spots a slight pocket of space behind a defender who gets caught ball-watching. Lodeiro then one-times a pass to Lamar Neagle, spins off another defender and then fires another one-time pass back to Eikrem, who Lodeiro somehow knows almost instinctively is making that run into the gap.
The play earned a corner for the Sounders, and although Seattle wasn’t able to find the back of the net, Lodeiro unbalanced the entire back line, dragging them toward him and out of position to properly deal with a late runner in the box. There are few players in MLS who have the type of spatial awareness that Lodeiro possesses to comprehend how his movements off the ball will help free up others.
Without Lodeiro at Chivas the following week, Seattle only had 33 percent possession, 56 percent passing accuracy and only had one key pass. The creative glue in the midfield was gone. Fortunately, Lodeiro’s injury is not expected to be long term, and the extended layoff until the next game against the Montreal Impact on March 31 should help the recovery process.
Lodeiro shines on the box score, yes — his seven goals and 12 assists last year speak for themselves — but his impact on the game extends far greater than just the score sheet. He’s one of the best playmakers in MLS and getting him back will go a long way in helping Seattle pick up its first win of the MLS season.