SEATTLE — Many hearts had grown lighter to hear that Nicolas Lodeiro returned to Seattle Sounders training on Friday, even tempered with the empathy of not being selected for Uruguay’s 23-man World Cup roster. Still, doubts had lingered; just how “back” was Lodeiro for the match against D.C. United?
If Lodeiro’s thunderous left-footed, momentum-switching goal in the 57th minute wasn’t enough proof, the midfielder’s report card from the rest of the action certainly tells the tale.
Lodeiro took 105 touches Saturday night, completed 92.9 percent of his 84 passes and made 55 passes in the attacking half. All those figures were match-highs in their respective categories.
This all came despite Lodeiro playing with an admittedly heavy heart.
“I’m happy to be back here,” Lodeiro said through a translator. “Obviously, I would have preferred—my peers and colleagues would have preferred—for me to be in the World Cup, but what happened happened and now I have to compose and recover and be here with my team.”
Lodeiro, dropped into the defensive midfield along Cristian Roldan, was given free reign to conduct the midfield operations. Lodeiro responded by facilitating the quick movement of the ball into attacking areas.
“We’ve worked a lot on trying to get the ball from back to front in various phases of the game,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “From goal kicks in the defending third, to the middle third, to the attacking third. And putting Nico in the middle third helps on both sides of the table. So, that’s one thing. I could’ve stuck Harry [Shipp] back there, he probably can do that job, but I think Nico has a little more range. I think Cristian [Roldan] does what he needs to do to help with that situation. It just helps when you have a guy who’s confident on the ball to make those passes and make those decisions.”
Nico’s range paid big dividends, as Seattle found itself back on its preferred side of the possession battle, holding the ball for 57.5 percent of the match.
Still, Lodeiro’s greatest contribution was the goal, a 19-yard volley that snaked through traffic and beyond the outstretched fingers of D.C. keeper David Ousted.
The placement was one thing. The timeliness was another. Just when the attitude of the crowd started to feel that the club was bound for another home disappointment, Lodeiro reached into his bag of tricks and gave them something to delight in.
The midfielder jogged back to the halfway line after his strike, hardly celebrating. It was a moment that echoed his arrival in 2016, before a crucial match against the LA Galaxy, when the newcomer turned off the radio in the team dressing room before the game with a simple message:
There is more work to be done.