After awhile, you sort of start to run out of superlatives to describe what Nicolas Lodeiro means to the Seattle Sounders. He is, without question, the most important offensive player on the team. Whether he’s passing, dribbling or shooting, he is a constant danger, a one-man wrecking crew of opposition game plans.
Lodeiro moves so much that he’s virtually impossible to man-mark without totally blowing up a team’s defensive shape. More often than not, teams effectively put two defenders on him in an effort to deny him the ball — almost impossible — or at least limit his space.
Even when they manage to do that, Lodeiro has still had a significant influence on games, either on set pieces or opening space for teammates.
As good as Lodeiro had been during the regular season, though — four goals and eight assists in 13 appearances — he’s been on another level in the postseason. Tuesday’s penalty — which he also drew — was his fourth goal of the playoffs, setting a new Sounders record.
But the goal was not even among his most impressive moments. If not for a heavy touch, Lodeiro probably would have scored an earlier goal off a gorgeous give-and-go with Jordan Morris. Lodeiro also came inches away from scoring off a beautifully curled left-footed effort from just inside the penalty area. There was even a first-half header that forced Zac MacMath into a sprawling save.
And those were just the moments that will make it onto the highlight reel. Lodeiro was everywhere against the Rapids, accumulating 81 touches and completing 82.5 percent of his 69 passes. Kevin Doyle, ostensibly the Rapids equivalent player, had just 46 touches. Just look at Lodeiro’s action map:
It’s that kind of honest, two-way performance that had Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei gushing about how “inspiring” Lodeiro is to have as a teammate. While plenty of players lead by example, they all don’t draw praise like this.
Morris, who must be growing a bit tired of these type of questions, was even more effusive: “Yeah he’s incredible. For me what is so amazing about him is that he can pick you out no matter where you are, he gets me on. He’s come up clutch with big goals in the playoffs. He works so hard defensively, he’s the heartbeat of the team.”
That Lodeiro is such a big part of the Sounders’ success is obviously no surprise. Teams are game-planning for him. Pablo Mastroeni thought he had a plan. It doesn’t seem to matter.
Speaking of standout midfielders...: Lodeiro, it should be said, had plenty of help in the midfield. Particularly from Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan. We’ve grown used to those two forming an impressive partnership, but rarely has it been more so than it was on Tuesday.
Roldan ended up with 85 touches and an 86 percent passing percentage. Not to be outdone, Alonso had 88 touches — including an eye-popping 13 recoveries — and completed 92 percent of his passes.
They did this while facing one of the top defensive midfield duos in MLS in Sam Cronin and Jermaine Jones. We’re now at the point where that’s not even surprising.
A history of one-goal leads: There have been 64 two-game, aggregate-goal series completed in MLS history and 29 of them have begun with a team carrying a one-goal lead into the second leg. It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that the team leading has only held on to advance 15 times. The away-goal rule has only been in effect since 2014 and only two teams have won the first leg 2-1, both ultimately failed to advance.
One of those teams was the Sounders last year, when they carried the identical scoreline into the away leg against FC Dallas only to lose in a penalty shootout.
Those statistics aside, all 2-1 leads aren’t created equal and each matchup brings its own variables. In this case, the Sounders are facing a Rapids team that has struggled mightily to score goals. Only one team scored fewer than them this year, and their two playoff goals were off a virtual once-in-a-lifetime, 40-yard blast and a deflected shot.
The Rapids have scored one or fewer goals in 27 of their 39 games this season, which suggests the Sounders stand a great chance of advancing if they can just get one of their own. The Sounders, it should be said, have been held scoreless in just one of the 18 games since Brian Schmetzer took over.