Before the chants from the crowd, before the coaches’ commands are barked from the sidelines, before the goal calls blast through the PA speakers, there is silence.
About 20 times a year at CenturyLink Field, a nervous energy from 40,000 fans sweeps across the stadium. Moments later, the faint sounds of a beating drum are followed by a harmonious clap. And another. And another.
From the corner of the stadium, 11 Sounders walk onto the field. The opposing team walks in stride, too. Somewhere in that line stands a father and son, Nicolás and Leandro Lodeiro, who walk hand-in-hand. It’s their happy place.
“[Leandro] is my anchor to the earth, my energy,” Lodeiro said in Spanish. “It is my joy in life and when I see him being happy with me, enjoying all the things that I wanted to experience as a child, it’s the best feeling.”
Lodeiro soaks up beautiful Arizona scenery on the team’s preseason trip to Tucson | All photos by Mike Fiechtner
When Lodeiro signed with the Sounders in July 2016, there was a mutual excitement for club and player, but neither side really knew what to expect. A 27-year-old midfielder for Argentine power Boca Juniors, Lodeiro was two years removed from competing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Uruguay and had won titles in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and the Netherlands.
The Sounders, meanwhile, had parted ways with long-time head coach Sigi Schmid just one day earlier. Sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference table, the Rave Green were hopeful Lodeiro was the miracle they desperately needed. A few months later, Lodeiro, who was named MLS Newcomer of the Year, hoisted the club’s first MLS Cup trophy to cap one of the most improbable runs in league history.
As Lodeiro sparked the club’s on-field performance, he was also settling into his new home in the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife, Micaela, moved with their young son, Leandro. Toward the end of the season, Lodeiro began to hold Leandro during player walkouts. He did it a few more times during the 2017 season, and by 2018, Leandro, known colloquially as Lele by players like Cristian Roldan, walked with his father on each home matchday.
“We love it,” Lodeiro said with a smile. “Leandro enjoys it so much and he is becoming more aware of soccer and what it means to us. For [my wife and me], when we see him at CenturyLink Field, going to the locker room, playing with Cristian, the way he played with Ozzie [Alonso], Víctor [Rodríguez] and Raúl [Ruidíaz], and when we see Leandro enjoying the soccer pitch, I think that’s our favorite part.”
In the same way Lodeiro loves watching his son run around at CenturyLink Field, fans have become enamored with the attacking midfielder, too. Over the past two and a half seasons, Lodeiro has proven arguably the most effective playmaker in club history. His 38 MLS assists have already set a club record, including a franchise-best 16 during the 2018 season.
“His work rate and his brain are impressive,” General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey said on the day Lodeiro signed in 2016. “Nico sees the game and sees passes that I think a lot of players don’t see. More than anything you need a brain…I think Nico is going to be our giant soccer brain and he’s going to drive us [forward] from a soccer IQ, soccer acumen perspective and make the entire group better.”
In the ever-shifting world of soccer, plenty has changed since Lodeiro made his mark in his first season. Two of his closest Spanish-speaking friends upon arrival, Nelson Valdez and Ozzie Alonso, are no longer with the club. He’s welcomed two new buddies, Spaniard Víctor Rodríguez and Peruvian Raúl Ruidíaz, into the attack and has established relationships on and off the field with them.
He and Micaela also added a daughter to their family, Rafaela, in October 2017.
By the end of his fourth season with the Sounders this fall, including his third full campaign, Lodeiro will have been with Seattle longer than any other club in his professional career.
“I’m very happy. If there was a place where I wanted my daughter to be born, it was here in Seattle,” Lodeiro said. “Since we arrived, everyone has treated us so well. The city is wonderful. We are very happy here, and to have something like that for life.
“We’ll always remember that Rafaela was born here, that she is from Seattle and that is amazing. As for Leandro, while he wasn’t born here in Seattle, he was very little when we arrived, so he is practically from here. My family is very happy to be in such a beautiful city and have the fans’ love.”
With his family pleased and his role with the team well established, Lodeiro is solely focused on bringing more trophies to Seattle. In 2017, the Sounders fell short in a rematch of 2016 MLS Cup, while last year’s home defeat to Portland in the Western Conference Semifinals will not soon be forgotten.
“I want to win it all,” he said. “All our matches. Give it my all in every match…I want to help the club get more championships. I came here with the goal of making the Sounders one of the best clubs in MLS, and we are achieving it.”