#2 Nicolás Lodeiro
Realio’s rating: 7.034 in 29 appearances
Community rating: 7.30
Rankinator ranking: #1
MOTM = 9 High = 9 Low = 5
For the third year in a row, arguably the best Sounder gets pipped for the top spot in my ratings by a guy who showed up mid-season. Lodeiro has been no less than a revelation for Seattle Sounders FC since the day he arrived in the summer of 2016. He has averaged an amazing 7.116 cumulatively in his two full seasons here. Nico has only had five below-average ratings in those two seasons as a Sounder compared to an amazing sixty-three above average. Lodeiro plays better than everyone else on the field in nearly every game. If he’s not already the best Sounder ever, he’s rapidly approaching that status. In 2018 he took huge strides to being that player; moving to a central role enhanced his movement and creation, and he responded with eight goals and 16 assists. He took on the leadership of the captaincy and is a strong representative of the armband through his on- and off-field leadership. Lodeiro played fantastically all year for Seattle and had by far the most MOTM awards with nine.
What I liked: Having healthy and skilled players to work with just amplified Nico’s production. In the second half of the season with a healthy team around him, Nico averaged 7.3. With Raúl Ruidíaz on the field, Nico averaged 7.43. In games with Nico, V-Rod, and Ruidíaz, Lodeiro racked up an amazing 7.67 average rating every time they stepped on the field together in the regular season. A great example was against Colorado in September: “The pure beauty of Nico’s play isn’t fully appreciated much outside of Seattle, but this game was one to show the skeptics. His stats were immense: three shots, six key passes, 92% completion rate, game high 115 touches, two assists, and a PK earned and scored. More than all that, he was the continual engine of the Seattle offense, time and again pushing the ball into the attack and creating chances with his passing and movement.” That match showed exactly how much this guy travels around the field.
Nico is a maestro of movement that befuddles opposing teams and constantly creates rampant havoc. It only works because of his endurance, which is unparalleled in the league. It’s much more than just running, though, it’s movement with a purpose that consistently pulls opponents out of position and sets himself and teammates up to take advantage of those holes. He can pop up anywhere on the field and is a gamechanger in multiple ways: over free kicks, which he wins by being the most fouled player in the league; runs of teammates; attacking the goal directly with or without the ball and finishing clean when given the opportunity; or defending via strong hustle and leadership to prevent opponents from making plays. His movement is so impossible to track, much less predict, that his very presence on the field forces defenses onto their heels. As Seattle adjusted to Nico’s playstyle, the team got even better, consistently filling in the gaps and moving to take advantage of his vision.
What I didn’t like: Everyone is entitled to a bad day, and Nico had exactly one this season. It came in the sixth match, against LAFC. This was everything that has ever gone wrong for Lodeiro, and he still managed an okay score via sheer force of effort when his technical talents were lacking. In this match he struggled to combine with Clint Dempsey and Alex Roldan in the middle, and with Bruin in front of him. He failed to create many meaningful chances and for once was exposed by not being able to cover the gaps his movement left all over the field. In his defense, he appeared to be carrying an injury. He missed the next five matches with a combination of injury and national team call up. Even with a foot fracture he still played well. Two other (small) issues: Nico sometimes tried to do too much, and he took some set pieces that were lacking. Adding other players around him will likely help the former issue, and the latter improved throughout the season.
Moving forward: Garth and Co. have smartly built the team around Nico Lodeiro. At 29, he’s in the prime of his career and is one of the top players in the league. His ability to dominate the full field with his movement, awareness, and technical skill will only improve as Seattle adds more pieces around him. His skill set is such that he positively influences a huge portion of each game via his massive number of touches. Playing around the genius of Nico is a proven winning strategy and one that Seattle should replicate in 2019.