TUKWILA, Wash. — Over the past 10 days or so, a cloud had been hanging over the Seattle Sounders. Short-handed from the very start of the season, there was an unease about who might be available for their next game on May 26.
Rather than prolong the angst, head coach Brian Schmetzer effectively ripped off the bandaid on Thursday by announcing that he had decided to let all three of his potentially World Cup-bound players join their national teams early. Although FIFA mandates that World Cup players must be released by May 20, MLS had obtained a waiver that would have permitted Schmetzer to keep Nicolas Lodeiro, Roman Torres and Gustav Svensson until May 28.
“This is it,” Schmetzer said he told the remaining players. “This is who we are for the next little bit so let’s get out and get after it.”
Of the three excused players, the one around whom there were the most questions was Lodeiro. No one seems to doubt that Torres is really hurt, given that he’s missed the last four games and it’s not even clear how much he can play in the World Cup. On the other hand, no one seems to doubt Svensson’s commitment after he just finished a three-game week and has played every minute of every game this season. But Lodeiro’s situation is harder to nail down.
His absence from the lineup against the Columbus Crew on May 5 was surprising, and Schmetzer’s postgame comments seemed to suggest Lodeiro was choosing not to play. Coupled with offseason rumors that Boca Juniors were interested in bringing him back — and Lodeiro expressing an openness to that possibility — conspiracy theorists were having a field day.
Since then, however, it has been revealed that Lodeiro’s toe is, in fact, broken. There’s been an implication that he could potentially play through it, but not without the risk of prolonging the injury or even making it worse.
Although Schmetzer didn’t quite spell it out this clearly, this seems to be the thinking: Lodeiro’s injury while possibly short of debilitating, is causing enough discomfort as to hinder his effectiveness; the World Cup is the pinnacle of any player’s career; the only way he’s going to make the World Cup is if he’s reasonably healthy; the only way he’s going to get healthier is to rest. Left completely unsaid, the Sounders want Lodeiro to be happy and if it looks like they are hindering his ability to make the World Cup, that’s not going to help.
Either way, Schmetzer is now offering full-throated support of Lodeiro joining Uruguay early where he is one of 26 players fighting for 23 roster spots.
“Nico has given everything to this club,” Schmetzer said. “I think Nico has always been a good soldier to this club and he’s going to make decisions that are best in his career and we support him on that.”
Asked if Stefan Frei’s comments about teammates not doing everything they could to stay healthy and get on the field may have been somewhat aimed at Lodeiro, Schmetzer offered further defense of his playmaker.
“Everybody knows Nico has good character,” he said. “Whatever you guys read into those comments after Portland, that was frustration. We were all frustrated. We are in a world of hurt with injuries. Everybody is trying to get back healthy, everyone wants to play. That’s without a doubt that all our players don’t have that issue.”
While it might not be easy to see Lodeiro miss even one more game than he absolutely needs to, it’s not hard to see why this playing out the way it is. One game is not going to make or break the Sounders’ season. Even if Lodeiro had stayed, they would still need to figure out how to navigate at least the five games in June and possibly more without him.
At least this way, Lodeiro knows the organization supports him. Fans probably owe him the same.