When I said that VRod was really good, I wasn’t kidding. Much speculation has been floating around about this guy since he arrived, with many Seattle Sounders fans frustrated at his lack of playing time while Coach Brian Schmetzer brought him along slowly. Having watched several practices and one game, here are my views on our shiny new V8.
First off, this guy is small. He’s smaller than Nico, and while listed at 5-foot-7 and 154 lbs., he seems much smaller than that. Because of his size, he relies on immense technical skill which involves great touch with both feet, incredible vision, and well above average patience to find the correct play.
Against Vancouver we got a great idea of what V8R can give the Sounders. Here are my notes on the game.
The first thing that jumped out at me was his positional awareness. In the 3rd minute, realizing that Lodeiro was overloading the center-left, Victor chalked his heels perfectly, creating as much space as possible. Especially going forward, this tactical awareness to create areas to work with is huge. All game I was struck by his constant moving into the middle and back wide to keep balance through the left side. In the 6th minute Victor displayed some smart movement, eventually ending up wide open on the backside but failing to receive a pass from Bruin. V8 joined the press at times, and his angles in doing so were intelligent, pushing play towards Sounders’ strength areas.
In the 8th minute VRod moved inside and immediately combined with Nico through central passes. These two looked perfectly coordinated, moving off each other well. When Nouhou chugged up the wing, Vic dropped into the corner of the 18, pulling a defender high and both creating a passing lane for the fullback as well as space for forwards to run into. What this movement did is give Seattle four guys inside the area as targets for service, which is tremendous.
In the 11th minute Rodriguez made a spectacular pass that few in the league even see, let alone make, putting a cross-field ball right into the run of Bruin on the back side. His vision and awareness to both expect a run and find it will be a great addition. Another thing Victor did in the 13th and throughout the match was make checking runs from the wing. This is very different from other wingers, and really opened the game. On these plays, Rodriguez pushed high and then checked back to the left-central channel. This gave defenders and deep midfielders an easy pass forward, and he had the skill to then turn in traffic and find a quick-hitting pass either through or wide, like he did in the 14th to release Leerdam. He can do this because his head is always on a swivel; he constantly knows where people are and is a step ahead of defenses.
We aren’t going to see much defense from Victor, as he’s a positional defender more than a physical one, but he did help in the 18th minute which created a turnover. When he received a return pass in the box he nimbly stepped aside a Sheanon Williams tackle and won a penalty. This play showed just how fast his footwork is, something he showed on many occasions. After another 24th minute checking run (this time opening Nico into space), in the 27th when Lodeiro had the ball in the center it was V8 again as wide as can be, standing on the sideline and creating space for his teammates.
After another beautiful pass to Bruin was squandered in the 28th, Victor showed off his ability to be goal-direct as well. In the 29th he cut in from the left and just missed goal on a curled shot far post. Four minutes later he didn’t miss the goal, and only a heroic effort from Ousted saved his magical free kick attempt. Rodriguez finished off the half with some defensive pressure, dropping seamlessly in behind Nouhou when the young left back got forward as well as helping Leerdam out of pressure with tight control when switched to the right.
In the second half V8 showed off another huge ability for Seattle in the 52nd; He attacked the central space on the dribble at full speed. This has been a huge deficiency in the team this year, with the middle often staying open as the team pushed passes around the width. Rodriguez surged into this space on multiple occasions and put pressure at the heart of the Vancouver defense, earning a foul for his troubles in the 54th. This is when the pace of Morris to stretch the field from the center looks like a deadly combination, as V8 can make any pass necessary from a central attacking area. With Rodriguez able to dribble into these areas consistently, a release valve that can go vertical with Jordan’s pace is going to wreck defensive shape. This movement also eliminates the need to push long balls to a “target” to bring the offense forward, with Victor doing that quickly and with full possession.
In the 62nd Victor had a sequence consisting of another beautiful set piece delivery, a shot blocked three minutes later, putting Bruin in to get hit in the face, and just missing Morris on a far-post pass showing amazing vision that Ousted cut out in the next five minutes. Rodriguez showed off a strong left-footed shot in the 67th. It was exciting to see a brief 78th-minute glimpse of Nico, Deuce and V8 playing off each other, with the ball moving from one to the next with impressive pace.
Victor Rodriguez got tired and struggled to be as effective later in the match, which is expected from a guy who is still working his fitness up. He wasn’t perfect in this game, with some passes going awry and crosses (especially late) showing some rust. He still needs to integrate into the team a bit, and when playing against a team that isn’t bunkering will need to play more defense. He hasn’t been exposed for his size yet, but at some point, teams will start to key on him like they have with Lodeiro, and we will see how he responds to increased physicality.
What we can expect is a highly technical, quick-thinking player who should seamlessly integrate with Nico and Clint’s intelligent play. Victor can enter the middle and play quick passes, but also has the intelligence to keep his spacing on the width. He was integral in using Nouhou appropriately, and he offers both great service on free kicks and dangerous direct-on-goal shooting. His vision and ability to see runs will make through balls from his wing a viable option again, and it will be important that Seattle keep spacing both width- and depth-wise on the field. This player looks very exciting and has the ability to unlock a lot of underused potential from the players around him.