Sounders FC midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro is iconoclastic.
Nominally a No. 10, the way he performs his playmaking duties differs drastically from most of his colleagues in MLS. An archetypal No. 10 camps out between the midfield and defensive lines, constantly searching for tiny pockets of space before surgically threading passes that dissect opponent’s defensive shapes.
Lodeiro, who leads MLS with three assists, is a relentless runner who covers every blade of grass, seamlessly alternating between dropping deep to facilitate buildout play, making lung-busting runs in behind, and drifting wide to create numerical overloads on the flanks.
He’s a one-man wrecking ball for the other team’s shape as he persistently roams the field, which drags defenders out of position, and dictates tempo with his high-volume passing.
“He can play in multiple positions,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “He actually plays multiple positions even though we start him as a No. 10.
“He’ll drop back to get the ball sometimes. He creates overloads on the left, he’ll come over on the right… That’s just part of my philosophy of, you start with a set formation and you have discipline within positions, but you always allow your best players to have some creativity and take what the game gives them. Nico is certainly one of those guys. “
Lodeiro's successful, unsuccessful and key passes from the 2-0 win over Colorado | MLSsoccer.com
Lodeiro’s chalkboard against the Rapids perfectly illustrates this phenomenon. With a prototypical No. 10, you’d expect the majority of his passes to originate from the central space 30-yards from goal. But Lodeiro, who completed 82.6% of his 86 pass attempts in Seattle’s 2-0 win over Colorado, routinely started in the middle before moving to the flanks and creating overloads.
Left back Brad Smith and Víctor Rodríguez have rightfully received ample praise for their dynamism down the left, with the pair combining for one goal, three assists and 11 key passes through three matches. Bolstered by Lodeiro’s willingness to drift to the wide channel and create numerical superiority, the trio have rondo’d their way through teams with ease.
In the clip above, Lodeiro darts to the left flank, creating a 3-v-3 situation with Smith and Rodríguez. After a quick 1-2 with the Spanish midfielder, the Uruguayan maestro drifts even wider as Rodríguez tucks inside. With Chicago’s midfielders tracking the movements of their Sounders counterparts, the passing lane opens for Seattle’s No. 10 to thread a through-ball that releases the Australian left back. With a series of simple one-and-two-touch passes, the Rave Green unluck the Fire and enter the optimal assist zone.
Clearly focused on mitigating Seattle’s ability to overload the left-hand side, the Fire left Jordan Morris 1-v-1 on the right as he set up Rodríguez’s opening goal just one-minute later.
With teams likely to key in the left-hand side, simple rotations from the trio have made them extremely difficult to mark. In a similar situation against the Rapids, Rodríguez occupies the tip of the triangle. The cover defenders for Colorado are preoccupied with denying an entry pass into Zone 14 as Smith lifts a simple pass in behind for V8R, who then picks out Cristian Roldan with a cutback pass.
Speaking of rotations, the ability of Lodeiro to make short, interchanging runs with his teammates is what makes his roaming style so lethal. When the outside back and wide midfielder station themselves a bit deeper, he has shown a penchant for making curved runs into the space behind the opponent’s wide defender. In the clip above, Rodríguez starts to drift inside, which triggers the Uruguayan’s run into the channel behind Rapids right back Keegan Rosenberry, who is preoccupied with the advancing Smith.
A capable and willing runner, Lodeiro’s high soccer IQ distinguishes him from other roaming No. 10’s. While most of his overloads have come down the left, here he sets up a quality chance by helping out on the right. In the clip above, Roldan’s positioning inside the box pins back Rapids midfielder Benny Feilhaber. Recognizing the space, Lodeiro makes a darting, 20-yard run to supply a quick 1-2 for Morris, whose cross narrowly misses Rodriguez’s head.
The attention paid to the Rave Green’s attacks down the flanks has freed up Raúl Ruidíaz, who has three goals in as many games, to do what he does best: create separation in the box and find the back of the net.
Soccer is a simple game, but one of the most difficult things to do is to play simply. In all these examples, Lodeiro isn’t playing ridiculous, no-look passes or dribbling through a maze of opponents. He simply identifies space, creates numerical superiority, and 1-2’s his way through a set defensive shape. It’s art in motion.