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Trying to understand Nicolas Lodeiro’s absence

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Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer gives confusing answers about the seriousness of his playmaker’s injury.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE (May 8)— In the game guide for the match against Toronto FC the Seattle Sounders list Nicolas Lodeiro as “questionable.” His injury is reported as a toe fracture. Harry Shipp is also questionable. Waylon Francis is no longer on the report. Morris, Rodriguez and Torres are all out.

SEATTLE — After being held scoreless for the fifth time in seven games and third time in four at home, Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer was clearly struggling for answers. The normally affable coach was having a hard time looking up from his notes during the postgame press-conference, seemingly reluctant to look into the cameras or at the reporters with whom he’s known for making eye contact.

“We’re disappointed in the result,” he said following a 0-0 draw that felt a lot more like a loss. “It’s not good enough.”

The frustration was obvious. Schmetzer talked about improving the team’s attacking movements, about playing faster, about not simply pumping the ball into the box on hopeful crosses, of which there was an astounding 45 of them. But it all felt insufficient somehow.

It was the same when the topic turned to Nicolas Lodeiro’s absence. When it was first announced that Lodeiro wasn’t playing, the team declined to get into specifics prompting some rather wild fan theories that he was trying to force a transfer.

By all credible accounts, that doesn’t appear to be remotely accurate (especially considering most of the world’s transfer windows won’t open for several months). But when the explanation finally came, it only raised different questions.

“He’s got a foot injury, and we were hoping he would play,” Schmetzer said. “But we decided that he wasn’t going to be able to play. We are going to continue to evaluate him because he’s an important player for our club. And we’ll just take it game by game.”

Schmetzer called the injury “significant”, while also making it clear that Lodeiro was allowed to make the final call on his availability and expressing hope that he’d be play Wednesday’s match at Toronto FC or at least Sunday’s at the Portland Timbers.

Reading between the lines a bit, Lodeiro is surely carrying an injury and has been for some time. It wasn’t so serious as to put him in the injured list this week, but it’s why he missed the CONCACAF Champions League game in Guadalajara and the following match at FC Dallas. It might also help explain why he hasn’t quite looked himself in most of the games he has played this year. While unclear if the injury has actually worsened, this is all coming against the backdrop of Lodeiro’s place in Uruguay’s World Cup roster being less than secured.

Although he’s continued to be called up, Lodeiro was left off Uruguay’s most recent roster and has played only sparingly since joining the Sounders. It seems fair to wonder if Óscar Tabárez would prefer to call in fully fit players when he makes his final roster in the next month. Without a trip to the World Cup hanging in the balance, might Lodeiro otherwise play? It’s a question only he can definitively answer.

Meanwhile, the Sounders will need to figure out how to generate more dangerous chances than they did against the Crew. Schmetzer knows that’s going to be a lot easier with Lodeiro around, but sounds as if he he’s trying not to push too hard while realizing the Sounders have only three or four more games before their World Cup players are called away.

“Nico has been a very, very positive influence for us in the club,” Schmetzer said, seemingly pleading for Lodeiro to return. “So, we’re sad that he isn’t playing. But, like I said, we’re going to continue to evaluate him, and try to make good decisions for this club.”