Lodeiro is a revelation. I wrote about his first day of practice and how excited I was, but he blew away even my lofty expectations for his debut in taking that short field scrimmage and translating it into 90 minutes of pure class. He simply crushed both the stat book and my notes. 123 touches with 86% passing accuracy is great, but when you factor in that about 80% of those passes were going forward it's just phenomenal.
Did I mention he was playing on turf for the first time? With teammates you have practiced with 2-3 times max? Amazing. The weight on his passing was tremendous. Nico is a one-man freight train heading to goal, a simply fantastic combination of vision, control, and touch who is ALWAYS looking to attack. This is a player who makes zone 14 his own, but not by camping directly in the central midfield, instead strafing across it mercilessly, popping up high on one side to drop in crosses, then pressuring on defense in the middle before supporting the opposite wing. He stepped on the field in his debut and completely ran the show, spraying passes around to teammates covering huge amounts of ground with hustle and endurance, and was easily the best player on the field. He was just spectacular.
Here's my notes from ratings:
Lodeiro had a few missed passes, and lost the ball a few times. He missed an open shot in the 65th minute that I thought he should have put on frame from a Dempsey feed. He had some miscommunications with teammates. So what? Let's get to the good stuff:
After kick-off I immediately wrote in my notes that Nico was a roamer and ball hawk and he never stops moving. Many times others would watch plays unfold, but this guy doesn't stop and his movement wreaked havoc with LA. Lodeiro introduced himself to the fans in the 7th minute, walking around Jelle Van Damme and getting a shot in (and receiving a kick from de Jong for his trouble). After that he dropped into a deep playmaker role for a bit, spraying perfect long balls to Valdez and Morris in the 27th and 28th minutes. These were inch perfect 30-40yard cross field passes. Did I mention he's ALWAYS looking forward? Nico looked frustrated in the 31st with a lack of options and had to turn back, and this is a guy who attacks constantly, and the forwards will need to learn to keep moving to keep up.
In the 34th minute Lodeiro put Valdez in on goal, passing quickly enough to keep the striker onside for a run in behind that shows just how quick he thinks - many other players would have played that ball slower, and the flag would have been raised. He dropped in two nice free kicks in the 40th and 46th minutes, and another set piece option gets more big bodies into the attack. His hustle in the box (and PK shout) kept the ball alive in the 50th minute and eventually the ball found Roldan for the Sounders goal. [Neat side note: after the goal, Lodeiro used goal scorer Roldan to relay a message to Dempsey before kickoff; I really wish I knew what was said].
Nico was just getting warmed up by this point, bursting into full bloom and dominating play for the rest of the game - from a holdup drop via Valdez turned into a perfect through ball for Morris in the 55th or picking the ball from Gerrard on defense in the 58th after tracking back to his own eighteen. Oh yeah, he played defense too, never stopping and looked perfectly comfortable playing both directions on the field. Lodeiro has perfect touch on his passes, and constantly put the exact weight on his foot to hit people in stride, a trait illustrated on a right-footed look in the 60th that put Mears in on goal, or the 70th minute through ball that left Morris alone with only goalkeeper Brian Rowe to beat. The next five minutes enclosed three passes from Lodeiro to Dempsey in good spaces but just out of reach of dangerous shots. Even after all this work the whole game, he still found Gomez unmarked on the far post from about 35 yards out and dialed in a perfect pass in the 90th minute that created a near chance.
Thinking about this sort of Sounder has me really excited, because he can strengthen every single player around him. Nico has a field of gravity that pulls opponents around the field and wreaks havoc with their tactical positioning. This space will really be advantageous for the whole team.
The center backs benefit as opponents can't as effectively press our defense high because Nico can both break a press and create a counter attack immediately, making teams that push too many numbers forward much more vulnerable than before. Alonso/Roldan/Friberg are freed from trying to create and allowed to just excel massively at destroying attacks through the middle and transitioning into supporting extra man runs on offense. Nico's work rate strengthens the entire spine of the field, and his willingness and ability to cover massive amounts of field takes the burden off of others. The outside backs are suddenly always open due to the combination of Lodeiro drawing defenders to him and his ability to make those penetrating 40-yard switch-field passes. Hold up forwards have someone who relentlessly moves to give them an option and clean passing lanes. Attacking forwards have unlimited possibilities for diagonal runs at goal; I have faith that just about any time someone dives vertical Nico can get them the ball. Players that want to work quick 1-2 passing have a willing and able partner to work in tight spaces.
Players like Morris definitely were unsure how to work with Nico, and hopefully the learning curve is a quick one. We saw Dempsey staying forward more (!!) as the game went on and he realized that Lodeiro was able to drop and transition the ball into the attack. Both of these players should benefit hugely from more practice time and getting a feel for how our new player wants to play. At times Nico looked for runs that weren't there, and he even passed a number of times where players "should" have been. These are things for Schmetzer to get ironed out in practice. This is where familiarity with Flaco is another benefit, I see his play being very complimentary to Lodeiro.
Nico Lodeiro isn't a savior and shouldn't be expected to do everything on the field at all times. What he is though is a player who will own the center of the field for the Sounders, and will make every single teammate around him better. His unique combination of vision, endurance, touch, positioning, and effort is unlike anything we have had here, and there is much for others on the team to build upon.