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Getting to know Nicolas Lodeiro, the Sounders’ newest DP

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Hooray! It’s official, Lodeiro is a Sounder! So who is this guy, anyway? He any good?

His full name is Marcelo Nicolás Lodeiro (Lod-eh-ee-ro) Benítez. He was born to Galician parents, Alfonso and Isabel and is the youngest of three brothers. Nicolás and his brothers were born and raised in Paysandú, Uruguay.

Nicolás has paved something of a meandering career path that began in his home country of Uruguay and has since taken him to the Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina, and now to the United States. Once Lodeiro makes his debut at CenturyLink Field, he will have played for 6 teams in the span of 10 years—just shy of Obafemi Martins’ 8 clubs in 10 years. After a somewhat unsettled start to his professional career, we should all hope he and his new family are looking for stability with their new team and community.

To get a better sense for who the Sounders’ 12th Designated Player is, where he has played, and what kind of player he is, let’s retrace Nicolás’ steps that led him to Seattle, starting in 2003 where his soccer career began.

(2003-2010) It was all a dream...

Young Nicolás began his footballing career at the age of 14 in the youth system of Uruguayan club Nacional in 2003. But he wasn’t alone. That same year, a confident young teenager named Luis Suarez was also beginning his professional career with Nacional (there ought to be a bronze statue of Nacional’s youth scout somewhere). Suarez, being the older of the two boys was quicker to graduate to the senior team. Suarez did not stay in Uruguay long before Dutch club FC Groningen signed him for a cool mint. Suarez and Lodeiro shared the pitch together for three years with Nacional.

Lodeiro, being two years younger than Suarez, spent a bit longer developing with Nacional. At just 20 years old, Lodeiro wrote his own page in Nacional’s club history book when he accumulated three goals and three assists in the 2009 Copa Libertadores tournament, helping Nacional reach the semifinals. Alvaro Fernandez was brought in to bolster the club’s attack during Copa Libertadores. Playing beside Lodeiro, Fernandez scored two goals in the tournament. Meanwhile in Amsterdam, Suarez was wrecking Eredivisie with Amsterdam side Ajax; he contributed a combined 52 goals and assists in league play alone that season. In the midst of of Suarez’ monster 09 season, he proved instrumental off the field as well, helping to bring Lodeiro to Ajax.

(2010-2012) Nacional Lampoons: European Vacation

Still just 20 years old, young Nicolás would arrive in Amsterdam at Ajax’ midseason. At first, niño-Lodeiro got his feet wet with Ajax’s U-21 side. His first senior team goal came only two months after joining the club as a late substitute in a national tournament against a second-division opponent. It is only appropriate that Lodeiro opened his account with Ajax from a well taken free kick that was initially won by his friend, countryman, and new teammate Luis "El Conejo" Suarez (Replay of the goal). In his debut season, Lodeiro was used as a sub in 8 matches, accruing a meager 122 minutes that included an assist in a 7:0 match.

Lodeiro’s promotion to Ajax earned him a spot on Uruguay’s 2010 World Cup squad. Against France in the group stage, Lodeiro made his World Cup debut as a sub and quickly accumulated two yellows (in less than 20 minutes) earning an early dismissal on a nasty studs up challenge. His next match would be against South Korea in the the round of 16 where he once again appeared as a late substitute. This time around Lodeiro provided his country with a boost when he provided the simplest knock-down header to Suarez, who then did Suarez things. Those poor Koreans. His third and final World Cup appearance in South Africa came in the notorious ‘Ghana vs. Uruguay’ quarterfinal. Most remember the match as "the one where Suarez cheated and sent Ghana packing." Nicolás probably recalls it as the game where he subbed in at halftime for past and future teammate Alvaro ‘Flaco’ Fernandez, fracturing his foot during the run of play. Lodeiro would finish the game out carrying the injury like a proper warrior Zach Scott.

The foot injury caused Lodeiro to miss Uruguay’s semifinal match against the Netherlands—what would have been a massive opportunity to show Ajax’ manager what he could do next to Suarez. Lodeiro would miss the first 2 months of the 10/11 season. In his debut training session, Lodeiro reinjured his right metatarsal, this time sidelining the young playmaker for the entirety of the season.

Lodeiro’s post-injury debut would end up coming with his beloved national team in the 2011 Copa America tournament hosted by Argentina. With a stacked roster that included the likes of Forlan, Suarez, Abreu, Cavani, Lodeiro, and Flaco, it is no wonder that Uruguay went on to lift the cup. Here's a Lodeiro-to-Suarez highlight, showcasing Lodeiro’s solitary assist. Now watch it again and this time imagine it’s Jordan Morris receiving Lodeiro’s pass.

For Lodeiro, returning from a serious injury and bringing the cup home to his motherland carried with it a very special meaning. Two weeks prior to the tournament’s opening, Nico received a phone call from home informing him that his father Alfonso, a former player, bartender, and hometown hero, had just passed away at the age of 56. The entire Uruguayan national team made the trip from Montevideo to Lodeiro’s home town of Paysandú for the funeral service (source).

Unfortunately the success he found with his country did not translate to Ajax. Lodeiro's time in the Netherlands could probably be summarized as "unrealized opportunity." Persistent injuries and prolonged absences with his national team prevented Lodeiro from getting into a real rhythm with his teammates and solidifying a role on the senior squad.

In his final season with Ajax, Lodeiro made 13 appearances, during which he amassed 2 goals and 6 assists. According to a FIFA article (confirmed by transfermarkt), most of his minutes that season came as a center forward, an opportunity borne by necessity when the club fell on an injury crisis. Lodeiro was desperate for playing time and Ajax were desperate for warm bodies in the attack. Lodeiro took to the new position admirably, helping his team to go 7-2-1 during the injury crisis. This period was the most active Lodeiro had been for his club since arriving, but in the end was too little too late. After two and a half disappointing seasons with Ajax, he returned to South America on a free transfer destined for Rio de Janeiro.

(2012-2014) Don't drop the soap

After a trying stint in Amsterdam, Nicolás joined Brazilian Serie A club, Botafogo. His 2012 and 2013 season stats are solid, consisting of 8 goals and 10 assists through 56 matches. Lodeiro once again played most of his minutes outside of his comfort zone in the center, this time as a winger.

After starting the first three games of the season, Botafogo would send Lodeiro to Corinthians in exchange for a modest $1.25 million transfer fee. A complication with the transfer paperwork prevented the transfer from being finalized. Nicolás would wait in contract limbo for two months. According to Reuters, the night before his long-awaited debut with Corinthians, a ceramic soap dish fell on Lodeiro’s foot while showering, causing a deep laceration that required a trip to hospital and several stitches, pushing his debut back another three weeks.

Lodeiro's long spell in contract limbo followed by the "soap dish incident" was the signal for another season watching from the bench. Most of his spot-appearances with the Sao Paolo side came from the wings; very seldom was Lodeiro deployed centrally. Lodeiro’s form was affected by a lack of playing time. It wasn’t long before he looked for a way out (source). He had interest coming from Arsenal but ultimately he opted to stay in his native South America to play for Boca Juniors. Lodeiro only made 7 appearances with Corinthians, producing zero goals and only one assist.

(2015-2016) Nicolás ReLod’d

Since following his longtime compatriot Luis Suarez to Ajax in 2010, Nicolás' career had been cursed by a series of setbacks. Joining Boca Juniors reinvigorated his career and seemingly lifted the Suarez curse. In 2015, Boca Juniors was happy to pay Corinthians a transfer fee equaling $5.4 million. Upon his arrival in Buenos Aires, Nicolas candidly had the following to say (translated):

What I most wanted was to play at Boca. The Corinthians people ended up giving way due to my keenness to play in Argentina. I'm going to wear the 10. It's a great challenge for me. I like to move freely and I'm not a typical link man (source).

Lodeiro donned the number 10 in his inaugural season with Boca, then switched to number 14 last season (foreshadowing?). In the short time that Lodeiro played for Boca Juniors, here are a few of his highlights:

  • scored against River Plate in the Superclásico. Replay. (Boca Juniors vs. River Plate, mother of all derbies)
  • scored a penalty in Copa Argentina Final, helping secure Boca's domestic double (2015 champions of Primera División and the Copa Argentina; only happened once before by Boca in 1969) Replay.
  • Instrumental role in CABJ’s 2015-16 Copa Libertadores run to the semifinals, contributing 2 goals and 2 assists.

With Boca Juniors, Lodeiro tallied 9 goals and 11 assists through 44 appearances. The majority of Lodeiro’s minutes came from a central attacking role with several games being played from the left wing.

(2016 - beyond) Yachting into the sunset...

For the Seattle Sounders, Lodeiro is being brought in to be — as General Manager Garth Lagerwey often described — a "force-magnifier." In other words, Lodeiro will not be asked to be the prolific goal scorer that Obafemi Martins was. Instead, he will be tasked with getting the most out of our existing attacking players like Morris and Dempsey by providing quality service from the midfield. Hopefully, the days of Tyrone Mears lofting hopeful crosses into an overcrowded goal box are behind us. Hopefully the summer of 2016 will be remembered as the summer Sigi was let go the Hydra sharpened its teeth.

According to Juan Arango’s story, Lodeiro fancies himself a fisherman. If this is true, maybe Clint Dempsey should pay it forward — as Marcus Hahnemann once did for Clint— by showing Lodeiro a few local fishing holes.

Looking ahead, I wouldn't mind if Lodeiro eventually lured Suarez to the Puget Sound so that the pair could finish out their careers just like they started in Montevideo: together.

(TV ad voice over) In cooperation with the Seattle Sounders, Lake Union Dental Academy wish to proudly invite you to attend Family Bite Nite! Be one of the first 10,000 guests to receive your very own Suarez rabbit dentures collectors items. Tickets are still available to see Luis Suarez and your beloved Sounders take a bite out of the Los Angeles Galaxy! Don't forget to hashtag on social media, #elconejo!

Maybe someday, fair reader. Maybe someday.

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My two cents

In my estimation, the Sounders are receiving a polished (near) world-class midfield playmaker whose past bad luck has effectively kept his legs fresh and his international reputation (and market value) under the radar. For context, compare Lodeiro’s 10,969 minutes played since 2008, across all competitions with Dempsey’s 26,005 minutes during the same time frame. In addition to Lodeiro’s fresh legs, the Sounders are getting a player, who, at 27, is in the prime of his professional career and has played on soccer’s biggest stages: Champions League, Copa America, World Cup, and Olympics. Lodeiro is also quite accomplished, having already won two Dutch championships and Dutch Cup with Ajax; Uruguayan championship with Nacional; Copa America with Uruguay’s national team; and most recently Argentinian championship with Boca Juniors. While it is unfortunate that the he did not come sooner, the young Uruguayan certainly has the pedigree of a core player that general manager Garth Lagerwey can build around for seasons to come.

In interviews, Nicolás has stated that he and his family look forward to their move to the United States. He’s also said that Fernandez was effusive in his praise of Seattle, even telling his past and future teammate "Don’t even think about it, just go." With his mobile past still in the rearview mirror, perhaps he and his spouse see Seattle as an opportunity to find peace and stability during the next few years. Time will tell whether Lodeiro adapts to his new team and new community, but early indicators look promising.