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Postgame Pontifications: In praise of puppet master Nicolas Lodeiro

That’s more like it.

Max Aquino /Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — At this point in the season, I think we can all agree that last week’s blip aside, the Seattle Sounders defense is championship caliber. The Sounders are tied for the fewest goals allowed in the league and the next closest team in the Western Conference has allowed five more goals.

The expectation is that the Sounders’ season will ultimately be determined by how many goals their offense can produce.

More than the three goals they allowed against the Galaxy — all of which were the product of uncharacteristic lapses — the larger concern was the re-emergence of the punchless offense that characterized the early season struggles.

I can’t sit here and tell you that scoring four goals against the Colorado Rapids should entirely erase those concerns, but I do think that it was at least the kind of response we all hoped the Sounders would muster. All four goals were the product of strong attacking movements and solid interchange between the players we want involved in the attack.

Granted, the Rapids are really bad — they are the first team during the post shootout era to post two separate losing streaks of at least six games and are currently being outscored 19-1 on their current losing streak — but as the old saying goes, you can only beat the teams you’re playing and the Sounders did everything you could want in this one.

The result was arguably the most convincing win of the season. The four goals were the most they’ve scored in a game without the help of an own-goal and xG had this as the most dominant performance of the season, featuring a season-low for xGA and a season-best xGD. Aside from maybe five minutes to start the second half, the Sounders dominated virtually the entire match.

Lodeiro the puppet master

In the middle of all of that was Nicolás Lodeiro, who may have had his best game of the season. Lodeiro didn’t just score and bag two primary assists, he had a rather-hard-to-believe-for-an-attacking-player 92 percent passing on 86 passes, drew a penalty and set up four other shots. He was everywhere.

That was never more true than on the Sounders’ first goal. The sequence starts with a goal kick that Lodeiro is eventually able to control near midfield. His pass to Victor Rodriguez effectively starts the attacking sequence and he ends up taking the first shot from the return pass. Cristian Roldan is the first to the rebound, but Lodeiro basically takes it off him before finding Raúl Ruidíaz with a cutback pass that results in the goal. Lodeiro ends up making five passes and taking a shot during the sequence.

Sounders actions during build up to first goal.

It was basically that way all game, as Lodeiro always seemed to find himself in the middle of everything positive the Sounders did. His effort on the third goal was also impressive, as he took a pass from Rodriguez, fought off a defender and goalkeeper Tim Howard to retain possession and then somehow found Ruidíaz with another cutback pass as he was falling to the ground.

As hard as it may be to believe, those were actually the first two assists Lodeiro has ever made to Ruidíaz and is hopefully a sign of things to come. As their celebration following the second goal indicated, they appear to enjoy playing together.

“Every time (Lodeiro) gets in possession of the ball, I prepare to make the runs because I believe there’s going to be an opportunity and the possibility for goals,” Ruidíaz said through a translator.

Wide attacks

Perhaps even more encouraging than the budding relationship between Ruidíaz and Lodeiro was the production of the Sounders’ wide players, especially Rodriguez. Coming into this game, 75 percent of the Sounders’ goals and about 80 percent of their assists came from players deployed in the center of the park. In this one, however, they got a goal and three assists from wide players. Their wide players also accounted for eight key passes.

Rodriguez was the most effective of them as his movement constantly confused the Rapids defense. He even chipped in on defense with four tackles and nine recoveries.

His goal, a well struck ball from the right wing — off yet another cutback pass — was his first since June 30.

As good as Lodeiro and Ruidíaz have been, defenses will eventually adapt and likely figure out ways to limit their production. Rodriguez is the next best candidate to step up his production and while we had seen signs of that, this was the first game he put it all together, playing 90 minutes for just the third time this year.

He was very open about just how important it was for his confidence.

“I need it,” Rodriguez said. “I need this game, I needed the result, I needed this goal. I think it’s very important for me, for the team, especially for me. I had a hard season with lots of injuries and I need this game and our fans with their help. It’s very important for me and I’m very happy for today.”

Maybe we won’t miss Smith?

Most observers seem to agree that Brad Sith offered the Sounders an immediate upgrade at left back. A closer inspection, though, suggests he may not be quite as big of one as it first seems.

Sure, he’s had more dangerous crosses and generally plays more “cleanly.” I think anyone who has watched the two play would agree with that. But in terms of end product, the differences haven’t really been there (and I must admit I’m guilty of overstating the difference). They both attempt about 35 passes per match, while Nouhou is averaging about .5 key passes per 90 minutes and Smith is averaging just .2.

Defensively, they are roughly even by the numbers as well. Nouhou averages 1.8 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per 90. Smith averages about 1.7 tackles and 1.0 interceptions.

The real telling stat, though, may be this one unearthed by Danny Ciaccio: the Sounders are 8-1-1 in matches featuring a defense of Kelvin Leerdam, Kim Kee-hee, Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso and Gustav Svensson. At least when that group is together, Nouhou and Smith appear to be virtually interchangeable.

There are obviously a lot of variables you’d need to examine — things like home vs. away and opponents would be a good place to start — but there’s at least reason to hope that Smith being out shouldn’t be a massive downgrade.

The game in one gif

OK, I’m cheating a little here as I already talked about this, but here’s the entire sequence leading up to the first goal:

Quote of the Day

“I’ll be keen on seeing SaH ratings. Somebody was in a bad place. Hopefully he’s in a better place.” - Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer with a casual shoutout to your favorite blog

One stat to tell the tale

20 — The Sounders have good records against a lot of teams, but they seem to take particular joy in facing the Rapids who they’ve now beaten 20 times in 27 regular and post season meetings.

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