Nicolas Lodeiro rescued a result for the Seattle Sounders. Again. Without Lodeiro’s contributions, the Sounders’ season would be effectively over. In his past three games alone, Lodeiro’s late goals are the only thing sitting between the Sounders going pointless and keeping their postseason hopes alive with a pair of road points.
It’s not ideal that for all the talk about the Sounders wanting to escape the cycle of being overly reliant on one or two players, that we’re still basically in that position. The difference now, it appears, is that Lodeiro is capable of grabbing those results on his own.
It was expected that Lodeiro’s passing would make his teammates better. That’s come to pass. Jordan Morris has been more dangerous and Clint Dempsey looked like a whole new player with Lodeiro. Even Andreas Ivanschitz has seen his level rise, as his role has become more simplified.
What wasn’t expected was Lodeiro’s scoring touch. His goal against the San Jose Earthquakes — on a wickedly whipped free kick that was perfectly placed between the attacking line and goalkeeper David Bingham — was his third of the season. Those go along with his six assists. To put that into context, probably the best midseason acquisition in MLS history was Federico Higuain, who managed five goals and seven assists in 13 appearances back in 2012. Lodeiro could very well top that.
Chances are, though, the Sounders will need him to do even more than that if they are to qualify for an eighth straight postseason. As improved as the Sounders have been since Lodeiro’s arrival — they’ve lost just 1 of 7 — they are still in desperate need of a more consistent third threat, something they’ve lacked since Dempsey went out.
Replacing Dempsey is hard: A point on the road wasn’t the ideal result, but it’s a perfectly acceptable one. We can’t, however, simply overlook the reality that the Sounders lacked anything like sharpness in the final third. You could easily argue that even though they were outshot 12-5 that they had the higher-quality chances. But it’s not hard to see how badly they miss a secondary striker when Dempsey is out.
There were at least two instances when Morris was able to get behind the defense. He didn’t have a great look at a shot either time, and instead chose to hold up play and look for a late runner. One time he found Ivanschitz, although he got there a bit late and hit his shot well high of the target. The other time, Morris tried to cross to a trailing Nelson Valdez, but the pass was too close to Bingham on what was essentially the final play of the game. Those were the exact kind of runs Morris and Dempsey were just starting to perfect.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t anyone on the roster with anything like Dempsey’s skill set. Brian Schmetzer’s best option might be putting Alvaro Fernandez there and moving Lodeiro back out to an ostensibly wide position, where he looked even better than he has in recent games.
Whether or not the Sounders can figure out this dilemma will likely determine how long this season lasts.
Postseason chances are still alive: By the time you read this, you’ll surely have seen some pundits writing off the Sounders’ chances after this tie. And, sure, if you look at it simply in the vacuum of the week, the results weren’t kind. The Whitecaps and Timbers both won, the Earthquakes are still a point ahead with the same number of games played and the Sounders are now back in ninth in the West.
But the cutoff for the playoffs still looks to be tracking toward 45 points, basically where it’s been for a couple months. To get to 45, the Sounders need 13 points in their final seven games. Put another way, they need four wins and a tie. The easiest way to get there is to win their final four home games and pick up at least one point during trips to the Galaxy, Vancouver and Dallas. It’s hardly a simple path, but it is achievable. Those home games are all virtual must-wins, though. It starts on Saturday against the Whitecaps, who will be coming off a midweek CONCACAF Champions League road game against Sporting Kansas City.
Get healthy Brad: Tyrone Mears horribly misplayed a relatively innocuous ball and turned it into a San Jose goal. To his credit, he at least owned up to it:
Tyrone Mears on the error that led to the Earthquakes' goal: pic.twitter.com/5vtOfn7Tg7— Sounders Beat (@SoundersBeat) September 11, 2016
Unfortunately, this is becoming an all-too common occurrence. It seems as though Mears is good for at least one totally inexcusable mistake a game and they’ve been leading to quite a few goals. The Sounders simply can’t afford to give away cheap goals like this, especially when their offense is well short of clicking on all cylinders. Meanwhile, Mears isn’t nearly as effective going forward as he once was.
I’m assuming that Mears wouldn’t have bene starting tonight, if not for Brad Evans apparently tweaking his back. We can only hope that’s the case, at least, and that Evans is ready for the next game. Even if he’s not, at this point I think I’d prefer to see Oniel Fisher on the right.