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Seattle Sounders vs. 2017: End-of-season player ratings, #3

Nicolas Lodeiro simply never stops.

#3 Nicolas Lodeiro – 6.79 | Community – 6.62

After bursting into the league last season and leading Seattle to its first MLS Cup title, many pegged Lodeiro as an MVP candidate. While he didn’t show up on any MVP ballots, he did produce scoring chances at nearly the same rate as in 2016, and when he played well, Seattle usually followed. A slow team start may have changed the perception about his effectiveness, and Nico himself improved as the season wore on. The Seattle Sounders DP ended the season with seven goals and 12 assists. The ratings were again good for Lodeiro in 2017; he only rated below average a few times and had many high grades.

Nico tied for most appearances for Seattle (38) missing only one match all year, and that was due to a red card. With as much of a grind as MLS teams go through, this is quite a remarkable feat. In fact, other than the mandatory suspension game, Nico played all but five minutes this year, subbing out late on two occasions. This is amazing because at the same time, he was earning a league record number of fouls received, being pummeled every game yet never missing time for injury.

His first seventeen games earned Nico a 6.53, which is good, but where he really excelled was the final 16 matches of the season, earning a stellar 6.88. Nico continued to improve even more into the playoffs, posting the second-best postseason rating of 7.40 over all five games including two 9s and a MOTM. He did struggle at times to combine with the pieces around him and wasn’t as effective on set pieces as many hoped.

A snippet of the bad:

Nico earns his first 5 rating as a Sounder, nearly a year into his MLS career, on June 17 in New York:

“This may be the worst grade I’ve given Lodeiro and I feel a little guilty about that. He wasn’t actively bad per se, but more than anyone else Nico was affected by the conditions. His amazing work rate was nullified, as there simply wasn’t enough space for him to move around. A field worthy of a monster truck rally destroyed his amazing touch and passing. Lodeiro is a finesse player and there was nothing about this game that supported precise soccer, and he paid for it.”

It’s hard to take away much from a game at that location, and when you add the hurricane weather conditions, this is likely a throw-away. If I was going to choose an environment for Lodeiro to excel, it would be larger fields and nice weather, allowing him to take advantage of his work rate, movement, and touch. He still managed two key passes in this game, even in the muck and mud.

Seattle welcomed a lousy Minnesota team into CenturyLink on August 20, but failed to boss them around as predicted:

“Two of the three DPs struggled in this match, and even though Nico had a game-high 111 touches, he failed to turn those into many cohesive chances for his team. At the same time, his movement wasn’t as functional as usual and he didn’t connect with wide players very well. He did get nine more fouls (five called) committed against him and the hack-a-Nico strategy was on full display.”

After demolishing Minnesota away, Seattle struggled to deal with the expansion team in the home leg. An early goal put the Sounders behind, the team had problems breaking down the bunker/counter style from the away team and Lodeiro was not able to create as we are used to seeing. A number of fouls were to be expected, but Lodeiro’s service from all the set pieces he earned was quite poor. He really needs to improve on his dead ball service, and consistently getting corner and free kicks into dangerous spots should be a priority for him in 2018.

On September 23 the undefeated streak ended, and Nico was part of the problem:

“Nico had one of his worst games as a Sounder versus RSL; he looked slow and lost at times. He completed only 70 percent of his passes, and while he had three more key passes, his enormous key pass collection is rarely creating actual goals. We can and should expect more out of this attack, with Nico failing to register a shot or create any consistent pressure in an underwhelming outing. He looked tired, and maybe that’s part of why he subbed out of a game for the first time.”

This was one of the few games wherein Nico looked tired. Or perhaps the altitude bugged him. Because so much of his game revolves around his incessant movement and ability to leverage that into mismatches, when he’s off it’s a problem. Tired touches lead to counters, and movement leaving holes in the defense only works as long as that movement accordingly limits the opponents from attacking those holes. I even caught Nico walking, something I had never seen up to this point.

Nico was pretty consistent this season, and I had to dig to find those few negative comments about him. Even when he isn’t hitting the stat book with goals and assists, his movement makes things happen, and he might be the best in the league at contributing to attacking plays.

A snippet of the good:

Nico sparked a comeback against New England on April 29:

“Nico was one of the few effective players for the Sounders in the first half, and I am really excited about his continued improvement after a rough start to the season. He got a ton of touches this game and an 88% completion number from a guy who tries as many attacking passes is fantastic. Nico also had two shots, three key passes, and the very important first goal that started the comeback.”

Nico doesn’t quit, and this team started to embody that attitude even when a loss seemed inevitable. There is something to be said about leading by example, and Lodeiro’s work rate and desire is infectious. In the NE match, Nico hit the crossbar on a free kick, consistently overloaded areas, attacked via quick combinations, and was incredibly accurate going forward.

Right after looking rough against RSL, Nico showed us he wasn’t tired in an absolutely masterful midweek display against Vancouver on September 27:

“What a bounce-back performance from Nico. After some struggles against RSL, he was completely dominant midweek versus Vancouver. Afforded the space to work, he showed just how incredible his vision and technical ability can be. Lodeiro absolutely thrashed the stat book: 87 touches, with 88 percent pass completion, two shots, four key passes, two assists, a goal, two tackles, and helping an offense look nearly unstoppable ... Every goal had Nico’s fingerprints on it, either making space for others, finding the tight pass to break open the play, or getting on the end of a cross and finishing true. His combination with Dempsey and V-Rod was exquisite.”

Remember when Nico looked exhausted against RSL? Four days later he completely throttled Vancouver, looking fantastic. His passing and movement utterly befuddled our Cascadia neighbors, and was integral in nearly every attack for Seattle. In this game mere days later, he was amazing, showing that his conditioning is indeed world class.

In a dominant MOTM performance, Nico helped finish off Colorado in the last game of the regular season on October 22:

“This was another incredible match from Nico. He absolutely dominated the stat book. He touched the ball over 30 times more than any other Sounder, yet still completed 90 percent of his passes, nearly all forward. He had five shots, three key passes, a penalty kick, a goal from the run of play, and he added four tackles on defense for good measure. Losing players in this game only made him more effective, as his work rate is unheard of in this league, and he covered an amazing amount of ground. Lodeiro was everywhere ... In minute 94, Nico made up 30 yards in a pure sprint, out-hustled everyone to get on the end of a loose ball, and finished cleanly with his off foot for the final goal.”

Your 2nd-highest-paid player, up big in the last game of the season, out-sprinted an entire team and scored a goal in the 94th minute.

Nico is the kind of player who just gets better as you put more quality players around him, and as Seattle got more comfortable as a team, he kept improving all season. His instant chemistry with Victor Rodriguez is something that is exciting as they start their first complete season as teammates. He also worked well with Leerdam, and with more technical minds touching the ball, the more effective Lodeiro got. Having more speed up front should allow Nico to pull the trigger on his wonderful through ball passing, and depending on the lineup, he’s shown the ability to drop into the defensive midfield and pull the strings from there as well. He is an MVP level talent that does so much more than some stats can quantify.

Lodeiro starts every game in the midfield on a championship level team. He can play wide, central, or defensive middle and create quality scoring chances from any of these places. Another year in the league should only boost the effectiveness of this amazing player.

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