Nicolás Lodeiro vs. LA Galaxy 2021-04-30
USA Today Sports

Nicolás Lodeiro set to return as Seattle Sounders prepare for bout with LA Galaxy, in-form Chicharito

The Seattle Sounders will get their third tough test in a row to start the 2021 Major League Soccer season on Sunday when they host the LA Galaxy at Lumen Field (6 p.m. PT; FS1, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS) and debut their Jimi Hendrix kit to boot.

The Galaxy enter the weekend as the league’s top team, having won both of their two matches to kick off the campaign. They’re led by Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, the Mexican icon and legendary forward who joined the club last season.

After largely disappointing and disjointed 2020 — he scored just twice in 758 minutes of action across 12 games — the league’s highest-paid player has made an emphatic statement to start this season, scoring five times in two matches.

“It’s a great story for MLS,” said Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “It’s a great story for the Galaxy. But it’s an even better story for Chicharito. He is a nice man. I’ve met him a couple of times. He’s friends with [Sounders Assistant Coach and countryman] Gonzo [Pineda]. He’s a really great guy, and I’m very happy for him. It obviously makes me nervous a little bit. We have to plan for an in-form forward, a guy who has scored goals in many different leagues, the leading goalscorer for Mexico [all time], so that side of the story may not be the best story for me, but as a soccer fan, I think it’s great. It puts pressure on all the other forwards in the league, teams in the league on how you stop him.”

Stopping him was something that Inter Miami CF and the New York Red Bulls failed to do. Chicharito recorded a brace in a come-from-behind win at Miami in Week 1 before bagging a hat trick against RBNY in the Galaxy’s home-opener last weekend. He’s soaring with confidence, but the Sounders know the key to three points on Sunday is going to require more than just zoning in on him.

“He’s a great player [in good form],” Sounders midfielder João Paulo said of Chicharito. “He’s shown his quality throughout his entire career. But we don’t handle the match focused on only one or two players. We really need to be concerned about their entire team. It’s also our style of play to play as a group. We need to focus on the 11-v-11 and hope to prevail. But we are prepared as a team for this match.”

Seattle will be buoyed by the return of captain Nicolás Lodeiro, one of MLS’ best attacking players and a 2020 MLS Best XI selection. The Uruguayan maestro missed the first two weeks of the season with a left quad strain, but Schmetzer confirmed to reporters on Friday that his No. 10 is available for selection and will participate.

Given that Lodeiro is coming back from an injury, Schmetzer & Co. may ease him back and bring him on as a second-half substitute, despite him never making a substitute appearance in almost five years with the club. Lodeiro is a notorious iron man and has started all 121 of his regular-season matches in Rave Green. Still, the boon of 19-year-old Homegrown Josh Atencio has perhaps made the decision easier on the coaches after how well he’s impressed in his first two career starts.

“Atencio has been fantastic,” said João Paulo. “He’s a young player with tons of talent and a brilliant future ahead of him. One thing that grabs my attention the most is his will to do what is asked, not only by the coaching staff, but also what he hears from the more experienced players in the team. It’s been a pleasure playing side by side with him.”