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Postgame Pontifications: Nicolas Lodeiro belongs in MVP discussion

He had another amazing game.

SEATTLE — For at least a few moments, the Seattle Sounders’ season flashed before fans’ eyes. In an instant, the entire stadium had gone from jubilant celebration of Cristian Roldan’s goal to hushed silence, as they realized Nicolás Lodeiro was on the ground, clutching his knee.

After what felt like an eternity — but in reality was more like two to three minutes — it seemed reasonable to wonder if Lodeiro had suffered the kind of injury that would drastically change the Sounders’ ability to advance to a third straight MLS Cup.

As it turned out, the injury was reasonably minor and kind of amusing. Lodeiro hurt himself when he and Roldan both tried to jump into each other’s arms and instead ended up clashing knees.

“At the beginning, it did really hurt me a lot,” Lodeiro explained. “But, of course, I also took a little bit of an advantage to stay down there because it was a long run and a very fast counter-attack. So I needed to catch my breath and also give an opportunity to my teammates to get a little bit of rest.”

Well played, Nico. Well played.

Comical as it may have ended up being, it also served as a reminder that the Sounders are intensely reliant upon Lodeiro’s play. The Sounders have now won 11 of their last 13 games and are 12-2-2 in their past 16. As neat of a narrative as it is to connect that directly to the addition of Raúl Ruidíaz, the reality is a bit more nuanced. Ruidíaz has been very good for a significant portion of that run, but the play of Lodeiro has been arguably been more important.

During those 16 games, Lodeiro has seven goals and eight assists, including one in Monday’s 4-1 win over the Houston Dynamo. More than that, he seems to be involved every time the Sounders score whether he’s credited with an assist or not. In the Rapids game, for instance, he had the pass that sprung Nouhou down the left sideline on the first goal; the lung-busting run through the midfield before setting up Roldan on the second goal; the pass through the box that set up Leerdam’s assist on the third goal; and the pass to Rodriguez that effectively started the attacking sequence of the final goal.

Lodeiro finished the match with a game-high 105 touches, three key passes and four chances created, while still managing to complete 89 percent of his passes. It seems to be his new normal, as Lodeiro has found a way maintain his aggressive passing while increasing his passing percentage.

For the year, Lodeiro is tied for the league lead with 3.3 key passes per game and is tied for 12th in primary assists (eight). What makes him truly stand out is that his 82 percent pass completion rate is higher than anyone else with at least 3.0 key passes per game and is better than all but one player in the top 15 of primary assists (and he’s attempting nearly three times as many passes as the one player ahead of him).

I don’t suspect that Lodeiro will get any serious discussion as a league MVP, but it’s hard to imagine another player in the league being more important to his team than Lodeiro is to the Sounders.

We should talk about V8R too...

Not to beat this point into the ground — and not to undersell the importance of Ruidíaz — but I was curious how Rodriguez has impacted the Sounders. He now has four goals and three assists for the year in 990 minutes, which comes out to a rather tidy .64 G+A per 90 minutes. The only Sounders with better marks are Lodeiro (.80) and Ruidíaz (.78).

I was curious what kind of effect Rodriguez had on the team’s performance, though, and was somewhat surprised to see that the team averages about 1.73 goals per 90 and allows about 1.00 goals per 90 when he’s on the field. The Sounders, as a whole, average about 1.45 and 1.06.

There are a lot of variables to consider in those numbers, but it was interesting in any case.

In particular, it is really interesting how the Sounders play when at least two of Rodriguez, Lodeiro and Ruidíaz are on the field together. In those situations, the Sounders are averaging 1.98 goals while allowing just .96 in nearly 1,700 minutes. If they could maintain those types of numbers throughout a season, they’d score score about 67 goals and allow about 33. Just four teams in MLS history have posted a goal differential of better than 30 for a full season.

That’s pretty good company, to say the least.

The bad offense narrative

It’s true that by the rather inflated goal-scoring standards of the league this year, the Sounders still are only tied for 20th in scoring. But in a historical context, their 45 goals is actually pretty decent and is more than they scored in three of the past five years.

But I think that’s probably misstating what their offense will look like in the postseason (assuming the near apocalyptic combination of events that would have to occur for them not to qualify doesn’t happen).

The Sounders scored four goals for the second straight game, something they’d only ever managed to do twice in their MLS history (in 2013 and 2014). The 8-1 cumulative score also tied their best-ever goal-difference in a two-game span (they outscored their final two opponents 7-0 last year). They’ve now scored three or more goals in five of their past 11 games, a span that has seen them bag 27 goals (2.46 per game).

Even if you just cut out their first three games of the season — in which they went scoreless — the Sounders are averaging 1.60 goals per game over their last 28. That would put them solidly middle of the pack in the league.

My point? The Sounders offense has been very good for a few months now and has been fine for most of the year. It’s certainly not as bad or entirely dependent on one player as some like to make it seem.

Learning about roster depth

While they are clearly a better team at full strength, it was definitely encouraging to see the Sounders perform as well as they did against an opponent that is considerably better than their record suggests. Will Bruin and Jordy Delem, in particular, both had strong games after long stints between starts, while Handwalla Bwana showed why so many of us were excited about him before an injury cost him several months.

Delem had not started since July 15, having only played 19 minutes in the 12 games between starts. Deployed as a defensive midfielder alongside Osvaldo Alonso, he responded with one of his better performances of the season. He completed 84 percent of his 25 passes, had two successful tackles, four interceptions and four recoveries. No one is going to jump him ahead of anyone in the current DM depth chart, but that’s the kind of performance most teams can only dream of getting from the fourth-best option at virtually any position.

Bwana didn’t fill up the stat sheet nearly as impressively, but he did complete all six of his passes, which included an absolutely gorgeous assist on Rodriguez’s second goal. What I loved about that play was how calm he was, just tapping the ball between two defenders while most of the stadium was probably screaming for him to shoot.

I wouldn’t say all the reserves had outstanding games — Henry Wingo looked a bit lost at times and Delem was not nearly as good after moving to right back — but that the Sounders were able to score such a decisive win despite missing at least three starters was definitely encouraging.

The game in one gif

Kim Kee-hee continues to impress me almost every week, and this move to split two defenders was especially impressive. I was also a big fan of our social team striking while the iron was hot on this meme:

Quote of the day

“He does all the little things that we do. His goal, his run was from way, way back here and almost had a goal right before halftime as well. The kid gets up and down the field in a hurry. We love the kid and we hope we get him wrapped up here so he can be here for a long time.” — Brian Schmetzer, hopefully alluding to a new contract for Cristian Roldan

One stat to tell the tale

1 — The Sounders will clinch a playoff spot for the 10th consecutive year if they can just get a single point in their final three matches (trust us, we ran the numbers).

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